Pancreatic Cancer Rates Have Been Climbing

Julie Shenkman
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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


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  • Marilyn L.
    Marilyn L.

    That is my question also, the role of genetics, as my mom died at 65 yrs of age, went to hospital with mild abdominal pain, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and lived 3 months, if even that, I have diabetes for 28 yrs, and my father also passed from cancer, but lung cancer.

  • Deborah M.
    Deborah M.

    does acute pancreatitis pre-date occurrence of pancreatic cancer?

  • Joann C.
    Joann C.

    I just lost my aunt three months ago from this disease, she was vibrant and happy attending Zumba classes, when all of a sudden she started vomiting and had lost of appetite. She did not live long after that diagnosis, she died within a couple of months.


    What is the risk for this cancer if one has been told they have a pancreatic cyst?


    My sister died of pancreatic cancer several years ago. Her complaint was a persistent mild back ache. She had unexplained weight loss and loss of appetite. Her doctors misdiagnosed her with depression and hyperthyroidism. It was only after she became jaundice that a CT scan showed advanced pancreatic cancer. She was given 3 to 6 months. She lived 9 months. No history of cancer in the family. It is amazing that there is no more attention given to pancreatic cancer than there is presently. We need more research and attention to this horrible disease.

  • Christal T.
    Christal T.

    I'm so sorry for your loss. But thank you Leslie K. for that info. That will help a lot of people... And yes, we do need to talk much more about this serious issue.

  • Leslie K.
    Leslie K.

    My mother passed after 7 months from Dx. Early warning signs? She was nauseated and had loss of appetite the entire previous year. Low back ache and general mylaise. I was astounded when I saw the CT and MIR scans. By this time her blood sugar readings were way high. Pancreatic cancer is very bad. Keep talking about it and push for more research and funding.

  • Sarah A.
    Sarah A.

    My dad died of pancreatic cancer at age 59. I will turn 59 in August and I h as be to say that it is some -what disconcerting, ESP since I have recently been diagnosed as prefabricated and am moderately obese. Time to start exercising!

  • Randi J.
    Randi J.

    How large a role does genetics play in getting pancreatic cancer?

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