While the rates are rising more rapidly in women younger than 55, they’re still very low in young individuals, according to the research, which was published online Oct. 24 in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The research was presented simultaneously at the American College of Gastroenterology’s annual meeting, which is being held both in Las Vegas and online.
To study the issue, researchers gathered pancreatic cancer incidence rates per 100,000 people for 2000 to 2018 from the Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) database, which collects data from cancer registries that cover 37% of the U.S. population. They found 283,817 cases in women and men during those years.
The difficulty in diagnosing pancreatic cancer is that there is no solid screening test to identify it early and patients don’t have symptoms until quite late in the disease, Gaddam said.
Despite tremendous advances in cancer detection and treatment for other types of cancer, the five-year survival rate of pancreatic cancer has improved from 3% to just 10% over the past several decades, Gaddam said.
Risk factors include family history.
“We do have a well-defined, but a small, group of high-risk patients. For those, we tend to screen annually. We tend to do MRI, CT scans and endoscopic ultrasound,” Gaddam explained. “These are different modalities of testing on these patients to detect cancer, but for the vast majority of the general population, really not too many things to go by.”
Risk factors can include obesity or smoking, but they are not fairly strong predictors for pancreatic cancer, Gaddam said. Doctors also look for jaundice with no abdominal pain, profound, unexplained weight loss or a new diagnosis of diabetes.
“Obviously not all causes of a new diagnosis of diabetes are cancer, or not everyone that has weight loss has pancreas cancer. So, we have to be really careful about that, but we look for these subtle tell-tale signs when we talk to our patients,” Gaddam said.
Many people with pancreatic cancer have very vague symptoms in the beginning, such as minor abdominal discomfort or indigestion, said Dr. Sajan Nagpal, an assistant professor in the department of medicine at the University of Chicago. Nagpal was not involved in this study.