Breast, colon, prostate cancer and many other forms of the disease have very strong early screening protocols and tools used for early detection. Pancreatic cancer, however, does not. With an estimated 50,000 Americans diagnosed with this disease each year, it’s considered relatively rare. Even so, it is one of the deadliest forms of cancer with a five-year survival rate of less than 10 percent.
There are a number of reasons why pancreatic cancer survival rates are so low. Perhaps the biggest involves the reality that this disease is very difficult to detect in its earliest, more treatable stages. Here are just a few of the reasons behind that reality:
• No widespread early screening tool is available – Mammograms are beneficial for detecting early forms of breast cancer and routine colonoscopies can help with colorectal cancer detection. Pancreatic cancer has no single, relatively reliable tool. While some early screening tests are available, their use is limited to high-risk patients simply because the disease’s incident rate isn’t high enough to justify widespread use. The same tools used for screening, such as CT or MRI scans are also limited in their ability to detect cancer in early stages. Endoscopic techniques can be beneficial, but they aren’t generally recommended for early screening use unless a person is at especially high risk for the disease.
• Symptoms are slow to develop – Pancreatic cancer is considered a silent killer in its earliest stages. The disease develops with no initial symptoms and when symptoms do develop, they often mirror those found in an array of other conditions. This complicates diagnosis tremendously and can lead to further delays in treatment.
While pancreatic cancer remains a difficult disease to detect and treat early, researchers around the globe are working to change that. Blood tests and other simpler screening procedures are under study and may someday soon help change the dismal figures associated with this form of cancer.