Why is pancreatic cancer on the rise?

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Pancreatic cancer makes up only 3% of all cancers, but it is a cancer that is very much feared, and which is causing increasing levels of concern. It affects twice as many men as women, generally after the age of 50. The number of registered cases is constantly on the rise. So why is this so? 

Pancreatic cancer is fairly rare, counting for only 3% of all cancers. But this could be about to change. Five years ago, it was the fourth highest cause of death by cancer in the United States. Nowadays, it is in third position in this regard, and should soon overtake bowel cancer, remaining just behind lung cancer. More frightening still, it is increasingly deadly. In the Unites States, it’s mortality rates have been climbing by 0.5% per year for more than a decade. This is also the case in France, Japan and Taiwan. So what is hiding behind these trends?

The cause could be demographic. An ageing population in fact increases the incidence of numerous types of cancer. The longer we live, the more we accumulate genetic errors which can cause tumours, and our cleansing systems become less effective. In the case of pancreatic cancer, over three quarters of new patients are aged between 55 and 84. Other factors also play a role. Smokers are more subject to pancreatic cancer than non-smokers, and although smoking is on the decline in the United States and in Europe, there is a 30 to 40 year wait before cancer levels in turn start to drop. In theory, pancreatic cancer should be reduced in the future, with less people smoking than in the past. But this doesn’t take a third important factor into account: the growing levels of obesity and type 2 diabetes.

American oncologist Robert A. Wolff has been treating pancreatic cancer in the  MD Anderson Cancer Center at Texas University for 20 years. According to him, obese people suffering from high blood pressure and diabetes are “time bombs for pancreatic cancer”. Obesity and type 2 diabetes in fact increase the risk for numerous forms of cancer. Among the suspected reasons: chronic inflammation, too much insulin, hormonal excess, growth factors released by adipose tissue and other metabolic abnormalities. Researchers are now investigating the early signs of pancreatic cancer in the blood and body tissue of adults over 50 who have recently been diagnosed with diabetes.

Although blood tests could one day detect pancreatic cancer, the ideal would be to treat it at the source. Contrary to numerous cancers which can be cured if they are detected early, pancreatic tumours in fact spread quickly to other parts of the body. However, more than one in three cases of pancreatic cancer is preventable. It is recommended that people eat more healthily in order to reduce obesity  (by reducing the amounts of refined sugars and animal fats in their diets), do more exercise and stop smoking. This is the recipe for minimising your chances of developing cancer in the future.