Pancreatic Cancer: 2nd Deadliest Cancer by 2030?
Prediction highlights need for more research on this difficult-to-diagnose, treat disease, U.S. experts say
By Alan Mozes
MONDAY, May 19, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Pancreatic cancer is set to become the second deadliest cancer in the United States by 2030, new research predicts.
If the projections hold, pancreatic cancer will bypass breast, prostate and colorectal cancers, ending up second only to lung cancer as the nation's deadliest cancer.
"Overall, the cancer death rate in the U.S. is declining each year," said study author Lynn Matrisian, vice president of research and medical affairs with the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network in Manhattan Beach, Calif.
"And the numbers of deaths caused by several major cancers such as lung, colorectal and breast are following that trend and dropping. However, little progress has been made with pancreatic cancer, and we've known that it was not following that trend," she said.
Matrisian pointed to a combination of factors, including an aging population, the relative growth of high-risk minority populations and an underfunding of pancreatic cancer research.
Other important factors include the difficulty in diagnosing pancreatic cancer early, and the need for better treatments.
"The pancreas is located deep within the abdomen," she said, and the organ is tough to access and visualize by conventional scanning methods. Plus, "if the patient has any symptoms at all, they're often quite nonspecific and vague,"Matrisian said.
The fact that the pancreas is surrounded by dense drug-blocking tissue is also a factor, she added, as is the disease's tendency to start spreading at an early stage.
Matrisian's report was published online May 19 in the journal Cancer Research.
The study authors noted that lung cancer is already the top cancer killer in the United States, a dubious designation it is in no threat of losing in the foreseeable future.
To estimate a broad range of cancer fatality numbers more than a decade from now, the research team conducted an in-depth analysis of recent statistics that covered the 12 most common cancers for men and the 13 most common cancers for women.
Investigators determined that for the next two decades breast cancer, prostate cancer and lung cancer will remain -- as they are today -- the top three cancers for men and women combined in terms of the sheer number of people being newly diagnosed.
However, by 2030, thyroid, melanoma and uterine cancers will actually surpass colorectal cancer -- currently number four -- to rank as the fourth, fifth and sixth biggest cancers in absolute numbers.
The picture in terms of cancer fatalities is somewhat different, however.
Today lung, prostate and colorectal cancers are currently the number one, two, and three cancer killers of men in the United States, while for women the ranking is lung, breast and colorectal cancer.
Lung cancer is predicted to remain the top cancer killer in 2030. But, the study team found that the second biggest cancer killer of both men and women combined will shift to pancreatic cancer, followed by liver cancer.