This high rate is explained by the impossibility of adequately treating this cancer when it is diagnosed at an advanced stage, which is often the case. This cancer is indeed characterized by a silent progression, without apparent symptoms, and very quickly forms metastases. When the first warning signs appear (jaundice, weight loss, fatigue, pain in the abdomen or back), the cancer has already spread to the surrounding tissues (liver, lymph nodes). It is too late to be excised 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 over the next few years. In addition, this disease could become the second leading cause of cancer death 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 to see the incidence of pancreatic cancer drop sharply. In a similar way to the constant decline in lung cancers observed over the past fifteen years. Unfortunately, these gains have been offset by skyrocketing 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 cancerous cells with greater precision. Tumors that were once classified as of unknown origin can now be identified and found to be of pancreatic origin.
Improving the effectiveness of the treatment of several cancers
Screening and the development of new drugs have led to significant reductions in mortality rates from breast, prostate and colon cancer. Unfortunately, these advances have not had the same success for the treatment of pancreatic cancer. As a result, an increasing proportion of cancer-related mortality affects patients with this cancer.
More obesity, more cancer
Excess fat represents a pathological condition associated with chronic inflammation. An overproduction of several growth factors and important metabolic disturbances which, collectively, promote the development of several types of cancer. With regard to pancreatic cancer, studies indicate that people who are obese in early adulthood (20-49 years) are 150% more likely to be struck down by pancreatic cancer.
How to prevent pancreatic cancer
Avoid smoking: maintaining a healthy weight and reducing your consumption of red meats and processed meats 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 all the more important as we are at high risk of developing this cancer. Because autopsies performed on people who died of 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 pancreas 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 of onset, and survival in patients with pancreatic cancer. JAMA 2009; 301: 2553-2562.
Cubilla AL and PJ Fitzgerald. Morphological lesions associated with human primary invasive nonendocrine pancreas cancer. Cancer Res. 1976; 36:2690-8.
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