10 things to know about rising rates of pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer accounts for about 3 percent of all cancers, according to Scientific American, but its incidence continues to grow.

Here are 10 things to know about rising rates of pancreatic cancer.

1. Five years ago, pancreatic cancer the fourth-leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S.

2. Pancreatic cancer is now the third-leading cause of cancer deaths and is expected to overtake colon cancer to become the second-leading cause, behind lung cancer.

3. According to the National Cancer Institute, its incidence has risen by about 0.5 percent annually for more than a decade.

4. Pancreatic cancer's rising mortality rank can be explained in part by advances in treating other types of cancer, particularly breast, prostate and colon cancer. Immunotherapy has not worked as well for pancreatic and liver cancer.

5. An aging population contributes: more than three quarters of new pancreatic cancer patients are between 55 and 84 years old.

6. Smokers are more than twice as likely as non-smokers to develop pancreatic cancer. Although rates of smoking have dropped off in the U.S., it will be 30 to 40 years before there is a proportionate drop in pancreatic cancer rates.

7. Increasing rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes have contributed to pancreatic cancer's rise. According to University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston oncologist Robert A. Wolff, MD, there has been a shift from smoking to obesity as the primary driver behind pancreatic cancer.

8. Precision medicine and liquid biopsies, or cancer blood tests, are hot areas of oncology, but pancreatic cancer is particularly difficult. Pancreatic tumors are quick to metastasize, unlike many cancers that are curable if detected early.

9. Dr. Wolff believes that precision medicine therapies will ultimately help patients, especially the approximately 10 percent whose cancer is more attributable to heredity than lifestyle. The current blood tests, however, have poor specificity.

10. Prevention is key to combating pancreatic cancer's rising rates, according to Dr. Wolff. "It's thought that easily 30 percent of pancreatic cancer is preventable," he told Scientific American. "Cutting back on obesity, better diets, more exercise, no smoking. What a concept!"

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