What is pancreatic cancer?
Pancreatic cancers are cancers of the pancreas. The pancreas is an organ that is located behind the stomach and in front our spine. It is responsible for producing hormones (such as insulin and glucagon) which control sugar levels in our blood. When certain pancreatic cells turn into cancerous cells, it affects the function of the pancreas in regulating our hormone and blood sugar. Thus, some of the pancreatic cancer patients may experience fatigue, loss of appetite and unexplained weight loss. Some of the patients may even experience persistent pain in the upper or middle abdomen or even yellow colored skin and eyes which is known as jaundice. Unlike breast and colon cancers, pancreas cancers are not easily palpated or noticed by doctors due to its deep location within our body. Therefore, it is often misdiagnosed by healthcare professionals. In a nutshell, if you are experiencing the above symptoms persistently with no explainable reason, it is always good to consult your healthcare professionals for clarification. Early detection can improve survival rate.
How impactful is pancreatic cancer in Asia?
Based on the statistics concluded in 2013, the annual years of healthy life lost per 100,000 Asian with pancreatic cancer has increased by 43.1% since 1990. It is an increase of about 1.9% per year. The annual death rate per 100,000 Asian with pancreatic cancer, was 3.3 death per 100 000 patients. Globally, pancreatic cancer recorded 4.9 death per 100 000 patients in 2013 with Asia contributing a significant number to this statistic. This number had increased by 61.8% since 1990, with an average of 2.7% a year. Compared to Europe (46% increase), America (55% increase), and Africa (23% increase), Asia has the highest increase in death rate. Looking at the statistics from 1990 till 2013, the three most deadly cancers in Asia – lung , liver and stomach cancer, observed an increase in the rate of death rate (45% and 17% respectively) while there was a 13% reduction in the rate of death in stomach cancer. Pancreatic cancer death rate was far ahead compared to these cancers. The impact was worse in men compared to women. Regardless of gender, pancreatic cancer can kill a person as early as the age of 20-24 years old. It is highly deadly, and it is not a cancer restricted to the elderly.
Pancreatic cancer death rate was far ahead compared to these cancers (lung, liver and stomach cancer)
How do we diagnose pancreatic cancer?
Unlike breast cancer and prostate cancer, it is sad to say there is not reliable screening test for pancreatic cancer. It is probably the reason diagnosis is often delayed and missed. Several tests are currently under development although it has yet been introduced to the market. Generally, doctors may draw blood and order imaging test such as ultrasound and CT scan. They may also extract a tissue sample to look under the microscope for final confirmation.
What are the common pancreatic cancer risk factors in Asia?
Tobacco smoking and high body mass index (BMI) are the two major risk factors contributing to pancreatic cancer. It was estimated that 12.1% of the total deaths in Asia were caused by pancreatic cancer during 2013. It is estimated that smokers with pancreatic cancer will lose 5.2 years of healthy life. The impact is worse in men compared to women. The overall five-year survival rate due to smoking, is about 6% (ranging from 2% to 9%). 1,2 Therefore, it is very crucial to quit smoking and bring your body weight down to normal range. This is in line with the recommendation by the American Cancer Society.
- Pancreatic Cancer in Asia. Available at http://global-disease-burden.healthgrove.com/l/36035/Pancreatic-Cancer-in-Asia [Accessed on 9 March 2018]
- Ilic M, Ilic I. Epidemiology of pancreatic cancer. World Journal of Gastroenterology. 2016;22(44):9694-9705. doi:10.3748/wjg.v22.i44.9694.
- Calle EE, Rodriguez C, Walker-Thurmond K, Thun MJ. Overweight, obesity, and mortality from cancer in a prospectively studied cohort of U.S. adults. N Engl J Med. 2003 Apr 24; 348(17):1625-38.