Due to a lack of early detection tools and limited treatment options, pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. Even more alarmingly, according to a recent report released by the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, trends in incidence and death rates suggest that pancreatic cancer is poised to move from the fourth to the second leading cause of cancer death by 2020, and possibly as early as 2015.
The overall rates of cancer incidence and death have been falling steadily, which is very encouraging news. Public health initiatives have succeeded in preventing cases of certain types of cancer, and improved diagnostic tools and treatment options have prolonged or saved the lives of many cancer patients. Unfortunately, these positive trends do not hold true for pancreatic cancer.
The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s report is based on two critical publications. The first provides data describing how demographic changes in the U.S. will impact the incidence of pancreatic cancer. “As our population ages, the rate of pancreatic cancer diagnoses will increase, as the disease is more common in older people. Additionally, the changing ratio of certain ethnic groups within the country will lead to more diagnoses,” says Lynn Matrisian, PhD, vice president of scientific and medical affairs at the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. “These statistics are important to consider as we move forward and train future gastroenterologists and other medical professionals to diagnose and treat this disease.”
The other study focuses on the annual changes in the incidence and death rates of cancer overall, and specific types of cancer. Again, the overall trends indicate that progress is moving in the right direction with the diagnosis and treatment of cancer as a whole. But, there are several outlier cancer types that show very alarming trends, including pancreatic. In both men and women, the rates of change of incidence and death have been consistently going up each year for this disease.
Combining the evidence from the predicted demographic changes and trends of incidence and death rates yields the finding the pancreatic cancer will become the second leading cause of cancer death by 2020, and possibly as early as 2015. Today, the number of deaths due to pancreatic cancer is exceeded by lung, colon, and breast. “Based on our predictions, deaths caused by pancreatic cancer will surpass colon and breast cancer in the next several years,” Dr. Matrisian adds.
To date, the research advances that have markedly changed the death rate for so many other cancers have not translated into clinical benefit for pancreatic cancer patients. Specific biological challenges have impeded efforts to reduce the mortality rate from pancreatic cancer, including the anatomical location of the pancreas, an unusually dense and impenetrable barrier that inhibits the delivery of therapeutic drugs to the tumor, and genetic alterations which elude targeted therapies.
“The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network has set a goal to double the survival rate of pancreatic cancer patients by 2020,” Dr. Matrisian explains. “In partnership with clinicians, researchers, the federal government, and members of the public, we are dedicated to changing the course of this disease.”
To learn more about the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network and its comprehensive approach, go to www.pancan.org.