Why is one of the deadliest cancers on the rise?
While pancreatic cancer only accounts for about 3 percent of all cancers in the U.S., according to The American Cancer Society, it’s often considered to be one of the deadliest.
Currently, pancreatic cancer stands as the third-leading cause of cancer death in America. However, a Scientific American article reported that pancreatic cancer is expected to pass colon cancer and assume the spot as the second-leading cause of cancer death in America this year.
Alarmingly, just five years ago, pancreatic cancer was only the fourth-leading cause of cancer death, demonstrating how quickly it’s on the rise.
What’s the cause behind these increased deaths from pancreatic cancer? The article suggests several reasons, and they’re all not necessarily bad:
We’re battling other cancers better: Screening and treatments for cancers like breast, prostate and colon cancer are allowing diagnosed patients to live longer and overcome their cancers.
We’re using advanced testing: Improvement in testing biopsied tissue and utilizing high-resolution imaging has given us a way to identify tumors that couldn’t be seen before. Unfortunately, some of them turn out to be pancreatic tumors.
We’re living longer: The longer we live, the greater our chances of seeing genetic errors. More than three quarters of recently diagnosed pancreatic cancer patients have been identified as being between 55 and 84 years old.
This doesn’t mean we’re doing everything right, though.
Specifically, the article states one of the main reasons we’re seeing an increase in pancreatic cancer deaths is because of the rise of obesity and type 2 diabetes – which are risk factors for the cancer. Additionally, smoking is a risk factor for pancreatic cancer. While smoking rates have been dropping, this doesn’t mean they’re still not a contributing factor.
Dr. Marc Mesleh, a hepatobiliary surgeon at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Ill. says, “Pancreatic cancer can be caused by a variety of reasons, including genetics, but some of the ways you can help reduce your risk is by not smoking, choosing a healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight.”
While Dr. Mesleh agrees that pancreatic cancer is an aggressive cancer that can be challenging to diagnosis because its symptoms are vague, he doesn’t want people to be discouraged by this article.
Dr. Mesleh performs the Whipple Procedure, a procedure which only 30 to 50 percent of pancreatic cancer patients are eligible for, but wasn’t always an option for pancreatic cancer patients, and can help extend life and increase five-year survival rates.
“While surgery for pancreatic cancer is complex, complication rates are much lower than they used to be. Especially when surgery is performed in a high-volume center. Despite what the article says, overall survival for pancreatic cancer is continuing to improve due to increased research resulting in additional treatment options focusing on optimal patient outcomes.”
When diagnosed early, Dr. Mesleh says chances of surviving five years or more increases tenfold. While symptoms of pancreatic cancer can often be nonspecific, here’s what he says you want to look out for: Yellowing of eyes and skin, darkening of the urine, upper abdominal pain, nausea, weight loss, diarrhea and new onset of diabetes.
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health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.