The rate of pancreatic cancer is rising 'rapidly' among young women compared to men, found a recent study conducted by researchers in the US.
The large-scale study conducted by researchers from the Cedars-Sinai Cancer Institute in Los Angeles found that in the US, the rate of pancreatic cancer in women under the age of 55 has risen 2.4 percent higher than in men of the same age.
The study also found that the rate of incidence among young Black women rose 2.23 percent higher than among young Black men.
Although the findings of this study are alarming, can they be extrapolated to India as well?
Is pancreatic cancer on the rise among Indian women too? How do you detect pancreatic cancer?
FIT speaks to Dr Shubham Garg, Senior Consultant, Surgical Oncology, Fortis Hospital, Noida, and Dr Nikhil Agarwal, GI-HPB Surgery and Oncology, Max Hospital, Saket and Gurugram.
What is pancreatic cancer?
The pancreas is a small leaf-shaped organ located behind the stomach. Its main job is to secrete enzymes and hormones that help process sugar in the food we eat. Cancer of the pancreas is called pancreatic cancer.
Speaking to FIT, Dr Shubham Garg says, "The numbers show that there has been almost twice the number of pancreatic cancers over the past 20 years."
How dangerous is pancreatic cancer?
According to the study, pancreatic cancer has the highest mortality out of all the cancers in the US.
Although it's not quite the same in India, because of lower rates of incident, Dr Garg says, "if a person is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, there is one in ten chance that they will be alive after 5 years with or without treatment."
"Even in an operated patients, the number is better at 43 percent but even then the survival rate is lower than 1 in 2 chance. Which just shows that is it is a very aggressive cancer."Dr Shubham Garg Senior Consultant, Surgical Oncology, Fortis Hospital, Noida
"It is located at a place where there are a lot of blood vessels which allows it to spread very quickly, and so even after treatment, the survival is not very good," he adds.
However, Dr Agarwal adds that pancreatic cancer is not as much of a concern in India as it is in other parts of the world as its incidence is relatively very low.
Is the survival rate even lower in young women?
Although the survival rate isn't necessarily lower in women, accoridng to the senior author of the study, improvement in survival rate is "largely among men. The mortality rate among women is not improving."
Is it on the rise among Indian women too?
Both Dr Nikhil Agarwal, and Dr Shubham Garg agree that there isn't enough robust data to tell conclusively, but there doesn't seem to be a similar trend in India.
"What data we do have suggests that more male patients are being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer but it can be just because of male patients getting more diagnostic opportunities as compared to female patients."Dr Shubham Garg Senior Consultant, Surgical Oncology, Fortis Hospital, Noida
What causes pancreatic cancer?
It's difficult to pinpoint, one cause, but there are several lifestyle related factors including smoking, obesity, and alcohol consumption.
"All of these factors are on the rise, which is why pancreatic cancer is also on the rise,"says Dr Garg.
"Whenever we talk about any cancer, the cause is generally multifactorial. We cannot pinpoint one cause. Majority of cancers are bad luck, they are random mutations. For pancreatic cancer, the only established risk factor is smoking. "Dr Nikhil Agarwal, GI-HPB Surgery and Oncology, Max Hosptial, Saket and Gurugram
Can I get screened for pancreatic cancer like with breast cancer ot prostate cancer?
Dr Agarwal says that unfortunately there is not screening test, or screening recommendations for pancreatic cancer as of now. "We might get something in the future."
"Screening is done in healthy populations that are in the at-risk age range. One way to test for pancreatic cancer is with a CT scan, but it's not recommended for screening without reason."Dr Nikhil Agarwal, GI-HPB Surgery and Oncology, Max Hosptial, Saket and Gurugram
According to Dr Agarwal, tests are only run when cancer is suspected from symptoms.
What are some symptoms of pancreatic cancer?
Some symptoms that Dr Agarwal lists are,
Loss of appetite
Light coloured stool