Statistics Still Grim for Pancreatic Cancer

November 11, 2019
Frieda Wiley, PharmD

Frieda Wiley, PharmD, BCGP, is a writer and pharmacist.

Why pancreatic cancer death rates are still so high.

The 9th most common cancer in women and the 10th most common cancer in men, pancreatic cancer also falls among the deadliest cancers. The disease is frequently diagnosed in its final stages, resulting in its high mortality rate.

Patients can expect an approximate 34% 5-year survival rate when the cancer diagnosed in its early stages; however, early diagnosis accounts for roughly 10% of the total diagnoses. For this select population, surgical intervention is typically the treatment of choice, as surgeons are normally able to resect the entire tumor. Once the cancer has metastasized to surrounding tissue, the 5-year survival rate falls to approximately 12%. For those whose cancer has spread to tissues far from its point of origin, the 5-year survival rate plummets to 3%. Sadly, more than half of the patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer fall into the latter group. 

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Many of the risk factors for pancreatic cancer are similar to that of other cancers and chronic health conditions, while other may be unique. These include

  •  Smoking. The risk for developing pancreatic cancer is two-to-three-fold in individuals who smoke.

  • Diet and Obesity. Regular consumption of fatty foods increases the risk for pancreatic cancer-especially for men and women who are either obese or overweight. These individuals stand a greater chance of being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and dying from the disease. Excessive alcohol intake also raises the chances of developing the disease. 

  • Race/ethnicity: People who are of African descent are at greater risk for developing pancreatic cancer than their Caucasian, Latino or Asian counterparts. Ashkenazi Jews also face an increased risk-especially if the condition runs in the family. 

  • Family History: Pancreatic cancer runs in some families, known as “familial pancreatic cancer.” Pharmacists should encourage patients who have been diagnosed with a type of pancreatic cancer called pancreatic adenocarcinoma to talk to their doctors about genetic counseling.

  • Environment: Certain chemicals-such as benzene, various dyes, pesticides, and petrochemicals can increase the risk for developing pancreatic cancer.

  • Chronic pancreatitis

  • Bacteria. Helicobacter pylori, the same bacteria implicated in gastroesophageal reflux disease and stomach cancer, is also linked to pancreatic cancer.

  • Prior history of hepatis B: One study found that people who developed pancreatic cancer were twice as likely to have had a hepatitis B infection in the past than people who did not have pancreatic cancer. 

  • Cirrhosis: Alcohol abuse, hepatis infections, and hemochromatosis can result in cirrhotic hepatic tissue. The condition has been linked to pancreatic cancer.

  • Rare inherited conditions: In some cases, certain medical conditions that are rare and run in families predispose individuals to developing pancreatic cancer, as well as other cancers. These predisposing conditions include heredity pancreatitis; heredity breast and ovarian cancer (HBOC)syndrome; peutz-jeghers syndrome; familial malignant melanoma and pancreatic cancer (FAAAMM-PC); and lynch syndrome.

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