Supporting the

Neuroendocrine Cancer Community

Aretha Franklin sadly dies of Pancreatic Neuroendocrine Cancer

Aug 17, 2018

We are very saddened to hear of the death of Aretha Franklin and our condolences go out to her family, many friends and fans across the world.

Many American reports used her family’s statement, released through Associated Press, to accurately describe the cancer she was diagnosed with: “…official cause of death was due to advanced pancreatic cancer of the neuroendocrine type, confirmed by oncologist Dr Phillips of Karmanos Cancer Institute, Detroit”

Many may wonder why this distinction is so important, the reason is simple – it is a different form of cancer with different symptoms, behaviour and outcome.

Cancer is not one disease, it comes in many forms as we are becoming increasingly aware. As our knowledge grows it can become more complicated to truly understand and so it is easier to generalise in terms of site e.g. lung, pancreas or breast. 

But the type of cancer is important to know, to enable to right treatment to be given, as we have recently learned in breast cancer and the need, or not, for chemotherapy .

Tragically, little has changed over the last 40 years to improve the outcomes for cancer of the pancreas (or more specifically pancreatic adenocarcinoma), however the same cannot be said for pancreatic neuroendocrine cancer. This is because pancreatic neuroendocrine cancer or pNET, behaves differently, not least in terms of growth and itself has many subtypes.

Most common cancers or adenocarcinomas grow rapidly, with a high percentage of the cells within the cancer actively replicating and growing. In neuroendocrine cancer we see different rates of growth called grading:

Grade 1 disease is where less than 3% of the cancer cells are actively replicating or growing – this means it can takes years for the cancer to significantly change in size. 

Grade 2 disease is where 3-20% of the cancer cells are actively replicating or growing – this means it may takes months to years to change significantly.

Grade 3 disease is where more than 20% of the cancer cells are actively replicating or growing – this means it make behave more like the more common adenocarcinoma or cancer – with significant changes occurring over weeks to months.

Prognosis for pancreatic adenocarcinoma, especially advanced disease, is poor – measurable in terms of weeks to months following diagnosis. 

Prognosis for pancreatic neuroendocrine cancer varies from weeks to years, following diagnosis – largely dependent on growth rate, that is, grade.

There are also differences in symptoms and treatments – increased awareness and better understanding of the types of cancer, not just the sites, can improve and will save lives.

We, therefore, thank the family of Aretha Franklin, not just for sharing her with us, but also their generosity at such a sad time, in helping others through the clarity of their statement.

NET Patient Foundation is a UK wide charity with a purpose to provide local support and information to patients and families from diagnosis, enabling access to the best care and treatment, whilst stimulating Neuroendocrine Cancer research, increasing national awareness and influencing improvements in outcomes. 

For more information about pancreatic neuroendocrine cancer please click here. 

Further information about pancreatic adenocarcinoma can be found at: www.cancerresearchuk.org www.macmillan.org.uk and www.pancreaticcancer.org.uk aretha-franklin-bw-portrait-a-billboard-1548