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Patrick Swayze Opens Up About Pancreatic Cancer

Actor Says He's 'Going Through Hell,' Took Experimental Medication

What else is in the pipeline for treatment? continued...

"Stage IV therapy predominantly is chemotherapy-based, at the present time," he says.

"Cancer cells are very smart," Singh says. "The example that I use in a lot of talks is that they're going on a freeway. ... if you're going by one main freeway and the freeway is blocked, you can take an alternative freeway to get there. And if the alternative freeway is blocked, then you can take multiple surface routes to get there."

It's the same thing with cancer cells, Singh says. "You think you can block one gene and hope that these cells are going to not grow any further? Well, they're smart enough to find an alternative route to get to the other end."

Singh predicts that in the next decade, cancer treatment will be a matter of using several therapies -- surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and gene therapy or immunotherapy, if it's available.

"We don't have a magic bullet," Singh says.

Swayze has been working hard throughout all of this. How typical is his case?

"I don't know the extent of how much [cancer] was there in the liver" when Swayze was diagnosed," Singh says. "If he had no response to the chemotherapy, clearly he would have progressed. If Patrick has a good response to this, then he's in the fortunate group."

The odds aren't good, but Singh knows of patients who have lived longer than predicted. Singh says that several years ago he met a man who was a seven-year survivor of pancreatic cancer that had already spread when it was diagnosed. The man asked Singh to tell his story when he lectured on pancreatic cancer.

"I don't know whether he's still alive -- that was three years ago -- but it's a good success story," Singh says. "But in reality, most of these people are not around that long."

Swayze talks about the fragility of hope in the interview. How have you seen patients maintain hope in the face of pancreatic cancer?

"To give treatment to a patient who has pancreatic cancer, you have to give them hope before you start," Singh says. Without a little bit of hope or something to look forward to, "it's crushing not only them, you're crushing the entire family. ... I think it is very, very important to give a positive message, even though we know this is a fatal disease."

Swayze says he's smoked for decades and has cut down but not quit because it won't change his prognosis. Is he right about that?

"Nobody is going to endorse that he should continue to smoke, because of all the health hazards associated with it," Singh says. "But I think realistically, if he cuts down smoking, is his survival going to improve? Nobody knows the answer to that, but I certainly wouldn't encourage it."

Singh points out that there is a "definite relationship" between tobacco use and pancreatic cancer risk. "The overall risk is approximately five times higher than the normal population if you use tobacco," he says.

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