Statistics show that pancreatic cancer was third among the leading causes of cancer-related deaths in 2018 in the United States. An estimated 56,770 new pancreatic cancer diagnoses and 45,750 deaths will occur in 2019 according to the American Cancer Society.
Men are more likely to develop pancreatic cancer mostly due to an increase in tobacco use but the figures currently stand at one in 65 for women and one in 63 for men. Many of those affected are over 45 years of age and almost 90 percent are over 55 and the risk increases with age. The average age at which patients are diagnosed is 71.
There are several reasons as to why this particular cancer is deadly. They include:
- Early stage pancreatic cancer presents minimal symptoms. The location of the pancreas makes it difficult to notice any changes in tissue and there is no specialized equipment or procedure for screening as it is with other cancers. All these factors combined make it difficult to catch pancreatic cancer early enough before spreading to other regions.
- There are two types of pancreatic cancers: exocrine and endocrine tumors. Endocrine tumors account for a paltry one percent of all pancreatic cancers. Exocrine tumors are more common and incidentally more aggressive. Once the cancer advances, it can recur and even spread to the liver.
- Once pancreatic cancer has progressed to further stages, surgery becomes the only treatment option and even then, only if it hasn’t spread. If any microscopic amount of cancer cells remains behind, the chance of recurrence increases.
Researchers are putting in more work into unearthing better treatment methods. Using genetics, doctors are focusing more on immune therapy and targeted therapies to get better results. With time, there will be a simple test like a blood or urine test for easier and faster detection. In the meantime, doctors use particular approved drugs to kill the metabolism and blood supply of these tumors.