July 25, 2019

Pancreatic Cancer: It’s on the Rise, But There’s Reason to Be Hopeful

A healthy lifestyle may help with prevention

Illustration of the pancrease position in the human body

While many types of cancer have been steadily declining in recent years, cases of pancreatic cancer are on the rise. That’s a scary stat, because this is one cancer that is hard to catch in the early stage, when it’s most treatable.

Advertisement

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

“Pancreatic cancer doesn’t have as many warning signs as other cancers,” says surgeon Robert Simon, MD. “It’s challenging to identify it early.”

While physicians and researchers don’t fully understand why there’s an uptick in pancreatic cancer rates, they have some theories involving the following factors:

  1. Rise in obesity: Obesity is a risk factor for pancreatic cancer. Since obesity is also on the rise, there may be a link.
  2. High sugar levels: Cancer cells thrive on sugar — which there’s plenty of in the modern diet. The pancreas helps control sugar levels in the body, so there may also be a link between our high-sugar diets and the increase in cancer.
  3. Rise in pancreas disease: Pancreatitis is another risk factor for pancreatic cancer. Between our pretty-darn-unhealthy diet and the massive amounts of alcohol we consume, the incidence of pancreatitis is also on the rise.

The good news is that some of these factors are in our control. Dr. Simon recommends that people:

  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Avoid red meat and processed foods (including sugar).
  • Minimize alcohol consumption.

What are common signs of pancreatic cancer?

“Pancreatic cancer is so challenging because it doesn’t come with many warning signs,” Dr. Simon says. “By the time we diagnose it, the cancer is often advanced and hard to treat

Advertisement

Plus, he adds, there isn’t a good screening mechanisms to find it at an early stage. Other cancers like breast cancer and colon cancer are treatable in large part because there are screening tests like mammography and colonoscopy.

However, Dr. Simon says there are still things you can watch for:

  • Yellowing of the skin or whites of eyes.
  • Itching.
  • Grayish-white stools.
  • Dark urine.

If you have any of those signs, get to your doctor, who will run some tests. While the pancreas is in a difficult-to-access location, surgeons can often surgically remove the diseased parts of the pancreas (or the entire pancreas).

Advances in treating pancreatic cancer

“I’m optimistic,” Dr. Simon says. “So many people are now 5 or 10 years out of surgery and leading high-quality lives.”

Advertisement

And there are more reasons to be hopeful than there were a decade ago:

  • Chemotherapy regimens: Researchers are exploring new drugs or drug combinations to improve outcomes.
  • Surgical innovation: Doctors are using new technologies such as irreversible electroporation to treat patients. “This new technology requires surgery, but we put probes around the tumor and use an electrical pulse to poke holes in the tumor cells,” Dr. Simon explains.
  • Research: Researchers are studying tumor material removed during surgeries. They’re trying to identify if genetic factors or microscopic tumor markers may play a role in preventing or treating pancreatic cancer.

“I think there’s reason for hope and tons of success stories out there,” says Dr. Simon. “We just have to keep fighting.”

Related Articles

Two bariatric surgery options: grastric bypass and gastric sleeve
February 14, 2024
How To Know Which Type of Bariatric Surgery Is Right for You

Gastric bypass and sleeve gastrectomy are different procedures that offer similar benefits, including significant weight loss

person scratching at their itchy skin on their chest
January 2, 2024
Is Itchy Skin a Sign of Cancer?

Anything from minor irritations and chronic diseases to, yes, cancer can cause persistent itching

male with beer belly on treadmill, with giant mug of beer next to
January 1, 2024
Does Beer Really Cause a ‘Beer Belly’?

Getting rid of excess abdominal fat will take more than just cutting back on cold ones

Showing self injection of mounjaro into thigh.
October 24, 2023
How Mounjaro Is Helping People With Obesity Lose Weight

This diabetes drug is quickly gaining attention for weight loss potential

Closeup up of a pile of sugar with sugar cubes on top.
August 24, 2023
Sweet Spot: How Much Sugar Is OK To Eat Per Day?

Updated food label guidelines make it easier to track added sugars in your diet

Person handing a pharmacist a prescription.
March 29, 2023
Is Ozempic the Answer for Your Weight Loss?

This diabetes med can treat obesity, but it’s not for people who just want to drop a few pounds

Person checking their BMI.
January 5, 2023
Overweight and Obesity: What They Mean and Why They Matter

They’re legit health conditions, and not entirely in your control

Person lifting weights at gym.
January 3, 2023
Set Point Theory May Explain Why You’re Not Losing Weight

Your weight-loss plateau isn’t a question of willpower, it’s your body fighting back

Trending Topics

close up of keto gummies
Do Keto Gummies Work for Weight Loss? Are They Safe?

Research is inconclusive whether or not these supplements are helpful

Person in yellow tshirt and blue jeans relaxing on green couch in living room reading texts on their phone.
Here’s How Many Calories You Naturally Burn in a Day

Your metabolism may torch 1,300 to 2,000 calories daily with no activity

Older person postioned sideways showing dowager hump.
Dowager’s Hump: What It Is and How To Get Rid of It

The hump at the base of your neck may be caused by osteoporosis or poor posture

Ad