Pancreatic cancer is predicted to become the second deadliest form of cancer by 2030. Next to lung cancer, this aggressive disease is projected to become the second most common cause of cancer-related death in the United States by 2030, overtaking deaths resulting from breast and colon cancers, according to new research detailing projections for cancer incidents and deaths. While liver cancer is predicted to become the third deadliest form of the malady.
While more people will be diagnosed with breast, prostate, and lung cancers than with pancreatic cancers, more pancreatic cancer patients will subsequently die of their disease, according to a paper based on new research published in the journal Cancer Research. The rising rates of pancreatic cancer could be attributed to two important factors–an aging population and the rising rates of type 2 diabetes, which results from pancreatic islet cells becoming less efficient at producing insulin. Additionally, there are no early detection or effective screening methods to detect pancreatic tumors because the organ is located deep inside the body. Moreover, this is why the death rate for the disease is so high because most cases of the malady are not diagnosed until the advanced stages. As a result, surgery and other treatments are often no longer effective. Whereas breast, prostate, and colon cancers have effective screening methods and treatment protocols that can save and prolong lives.
An additional consideration to address is that death rates from pancreatic cancer could also rise in prominence, due to the fact mortality rates from other forms of the disease are dropping, thanks to effective screening methods and treatment protocols. The largest contributor to the rise in mortality rates from pancreatic cancer is the lack of early detection methods. The pancreas is located deep within the abdomen and is difficult to visualize via imaging. Additionally, this inaccessibility has also proven to be a formidable impediment to effective drug delivery and treatment. The study contends that surgery is the only potentially curative option for pancreatic cancer, but less than 20 percent of patients are proven eligible candidates for surgical resection. Moreover, data has suggested pancreatic tumors tend to metastasize or spread early in the disease, so early detection will prove essential to treatment protocols and reducing mortality rates.
The study, which has predicted pancreatic cancer will become the second deadliest form of the disease by 2030, was published Monday in Cancer Research, which serves as a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research. The study analyzed demographic changes in the U.S., based on factors such as age and ethnicity, to determine which cancers would become the most prevalent. Overall, cancer rates were estimated to increase due to an increase in the aging population. However, certain minority groups have higher incidents of certain cancers, so as minority populations increase and age, there is also a shift expected in the types of cancers being diagnosed.
Currently, lung cancer is already the top killer overall and is expected to remain so, but pancreatic and liver cancer will surpass the current second deadliest forms, which are breast and prostate cancer for women and men respectively, and the third deadliest form of the malady, which is colorectal cancer, by 2030. Interestingly, the death rates do not correspond with the total number of projected diagnoses. According to the projections by the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, which conducted the research, breast, prostate, and lung cancers will remain the top three cancer diagnoses in 2030. However, lower mortality rates are attributed to better screening and prevention methods.
Overall, it is encouraging that the cancer death rate in the United States has declined each year, and the numbers of deaths caused by several major cancers are following that trend and dropping. Hopefully, the scientific and clinical research communities will be able to come together and utilize their successful strategies for combating other cancer types towards tackling pancreatic and liver cancers, exploring early detection and treatment protocols, and help improve outcomes for those affected by these deadly maladies. This is particularly needed in the areas of early detection, which will prove essential to treatment protocols and reducing mortality rates. Historically, more research and funding has gone toward the “big four” cancers: lung, breast, prostate, and colorectal. However, the Recalcitrant Cancer Research Act signed into law by President Obama in 2013 is expected to provide more attention and resources. Recalcitrant cancers are categorized as those with a 5-year survival rate lower than 50 percent and include liver and pancreatic cancers.
While pancreatic cancer is predicted to become the second deadliest form of cancer by 2030, there is new hope that a blood test for pancreatic tumors could help with early detection of the disease. Researchers from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center reported at the American Association for Cancer Research special conference on pancreatic cancer that a panel of four markers in the blood successfully distinguished people with early pancreatic cancer from those with benign pancreatic cysts.
Moreover, scientists at Stanford University have identified a protein that pancreatic and other tumors use to disguise themselves from being eliminated by the body’s immune system. They contend a drug targeting this protein has successfully shrunk pancreatic tumors in mice, and they plan to study the drug in human trials as early as the Summer of 2014. Therefore, all hope is not lost and further advancements remain on the horizon for early detection, treatment, and prevention of this deadly malady. Hopefully, the scientific community will be successful in reversing the trend that has pancreatic cancer predicted to become the second deadliest form of cancer by 2030.
By Leigh Haugh