This high rate is explained by the impossibility of adequately treating this cancer when it is diagnosed at an advanced stage, as is usually the case. In fact, this cancer is characterized by a silent progression, without apparent symptoms, and it metastasizes very quickly. When the first warning signs appear (jaundice, weight loss, tiredness, pain in the abdomen or back), the cancer has already spread to the surrounding tissues (liver, lymph nodes). It is too late to be removed by surgery.
Why are there more pancreatic cancers?
Another worrying aspect of pancreatic cancer is that many specialists predict that its impact is likely to worsen in the coming years. Furthermore, this disease could become the second leading cause of cancer deaths by 2030. A recent article summarizes the main factors behind this upward trend:
obesity and diabetes
Historically, smoking was the main lifestyle factor associated with an increased risk of pancreatic cancer (the risk is doubled in smokers). With the drastic drop in the number of smokers, we should normally have expected the incidence of pancreatic cancer to drop dramatically. Similar to the steady decline in lung cancers seen over the past fifteen years. Unfortunately, these advances have been offset by rising rates of obesity and diabetes, which are also major risk factors for pancreatic cancer.
Better identification of cancer cells.
The constant improvement of diagnostic tools (high-definition imaging, ultra-sensitive genetic and biochemical tests) means that it is now possible to determine the origin of cancer cells with greater precision. Tumors once classified as of unknown origin can now be identified and found to be of pancreatic origin.
Improve the effectiveness of treatment of various types of cancer
The detection and development of new drugs have led to significant reductions in mortality rates from breast, prostate and colon cancer. Unfortunately, these advances have not been as successful for the treatment of pancreatic cancer. As a result, an increasing proportion of cancer-related mortality affects cancer patients.
More obesity, more cancer
Excess fat represents a pathological condition associated with chronic inflammation. An overproduction of several growth factors and important metabolic disorders that, together, promote the development of various types of cancer. When it comes to pancreatic cancer, studies indicate that people who are obese in early adulthood (ages 20-49) are 150% more likely to develop pancreatic cancer.
How to prevent pancreatic cancer
Avoid smoking: Maintaining a healthy weight and reducing your consumption of red meat and processed meat in favor of vegetable protein sources are the best known ways to limit the progression of these microtumors and prevent the development of pancreatic cancer. This is even more important as we are at high risk of developing this cancer. Because autopsies performed on people who have died from causes other than cancer reveal that 75% of the population has precancerous lesions in the pancreas.
Rahib L et al. Projecting cancer incidence and deaths to 2030: the unexpected burden of thyroid, liver, and pancreatic cancers in the United States. Cancer Res. 2014; 74: 2913–2921.
Wallis C. Why pancreatic cancer is on the rise. Scientific American, April 1, 2018. https://www.scientifica-merican.com/article/why-pancreatic-cancer-is-on-the-rise/
Li et al. Body mass index, age at onset, and survival in patients with pancreatic cancer. JAMA 2009; 301: 2553-2562.
Cubilla AL and PJ Fitzgerald. Morphologic lesions associated with human primary invasive nonendocrine pancreatic cancer. Cancer Res. 1976; 36:2690-8.
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