A new study by the journal Annals of Oncology finds death rates from pancreatic cancer have steadily risen in recent years. Pancreatic cancer is also one of the most deadly forms of cancer, with only 5 percent of patients surviving five years after a diagnosis. If you are a healthcare worker, there are several things you should know to help your patients prevent this deadly disease.
The Annals of Oncology report compares death rates from pancreatic cancer over the past 14 years. The report finds that between 2000 and 2004, 7.6 out of every 100,000 men died from pancreatic cancer. For women, the rate was five out of every 100,000. Today, those numbers have risen. For men, the rate is now eight out of 100,000, and for women, it is 5.6 out of 100,000. The report predicts that 41,300 men and 41,000 women will die from pancreatic cancer this year.
Another recent study indicates death rates from pancreatic cancer are only going to continue to get worse. According to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, pancreatic cancer is expected to be the second-deadliest cancer by 2030. One of the factors considered in this study is the effect aging baby boomers will have on the medical community over the next two decades.
The persistence of death rates for pancreatic cancer is troubling for healthcare experts because other cancers—such as lung, colorectal and breast cancer—have all experienced a drop in death rates in recent years. One of the reasons deaths from pancreatic cancer have risen is that there is no screening test. Unlike many other forms of cancers, doctors can only administer a test—known as a CA 19-9 test—to detect tumors in the pancreas that have already formed. Even then, the test is only 80 percent accurate.
Another factor that has resulted in a high death rate for pancreatic cancer is the fact that symptoms do not typically occur until the disease has progressed for some time. Symptoms include upper abdominal pain, jaundice, weight loss and blood clots. There are also more subtle signs of the disease, such as hair loss and urine discoloration. Unfortunately, all of these symptoms indicate advanced pancreatic cancer.
Although the most recent studies have highlighted the need for more research into testing for and treating pancreatic cancer, there is also something that individual healthcare workers can do to prevent pancreatic cancer deaths. Because there are no early screening tests and symptoms do not typically develop until pancreatic cancer is in an advanced stage, prevention remains the key to reducing death rates. Known risk factors include obesity, tobacco use and diabetes. Talking to your patients about these risk factors can have a big impact on their future health.
Educating yourself about the status of prevalent diseases is the only way you can keep your patients educated. To address the persistent death rates from pancreatic cancer, focus on discussing risk factors with your patients. It is also essential for your patients to know the early warning signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer to detect and treat this disease more effectively.
(Photo courtesy of patrisyu at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)