A Snapshot of Pancreatic Cancer

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Incidence and Mortality

Pancreatic cancer, the 12th most common cancer in the United States, is relatively rare; however, it is the fourth leading cause of cancer-related death in both men and women in the United States. In 2014, it is estimated that more than 46,000 people in the United States will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and nearly 40,000 will die of this disease. Because pancreatic cancer usually is diagnosed at an advanced stage, the survival rate is extremely low compared with that of many other cancer types. The overall pancreatic cancer incidence rate has not significantly changed since 2002, but the mortality rate has increased an average of 0.4% annually from 2002-2011.

African Americans have higher rates of pancreatic cancer incidence and mortality than whites or other racial/ethnic groups. Pancreatic cancer incidence and mortality rates also are higher in men than in women.

Cigarette smoking is the most important risk factor for pancreatic cancer. Additional risk factors include personal history of diabetes or chronic inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis), obesity, certain hereditary conditions, and a family history of the disease or pancreatitis. Early-stage pancreatic cancer is often asymptomatic, and there is no routine screening test for pancreatic cancer. Standard treatments for pancreatic cancer include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, chemoradiation, and targeted therapy.

Assuming that incidence and survival rates follow recent trends, it is estimated that $2.6 billion1 will be spent on pancreatic cancer care in the United States in 2014.

Line graphs showing U.S. Pancreatic Cancer incidence and mortality per 100,000, by race and gender from 1991-2011.  In 2011, incidence is highest for African-American males, followed by African-American females, white males, and white females. In 2011, African-American males have the highest mortality, followed by white males, African-American females and white females.

Source: Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program and the National Center for Health Statistics. Additional statistics and charts are available at the SEER Web site.

NCI’s Investment in Pancreatic Cancer Research

To learn more about the research NCI conducts and supports in pancreatic cancer, visit the NCI Funded Research Portfolio (NFRP). The NFRP includes information about research grants, contract awards, and intramural research projects funded by NCI. When exploring this information, it should be noted that approximately half of the NCI budget supports basic research that may not be specific to one type of cancer. By its nature, basic research cuts across many disease areas, contributing to our knowledge of the underlying biology of cancer and enabling the research community to make advances against many cancer types. For these reasons, the funding levels reported in NFRP may not definitively report all research relevant to a given category.

Pie chart of NCI Pancreatic Cancer Research Portfolio.  Percentage of total dollars by scientific area.  Fiscal year 2013.  Biology, 25%.  Etiology/causes of cancer, 9%.  Prevention, 6%.  Early detection, diagnosis, and prognosis, 15%.  Treatment, 37%.  Cancer control, survivorship, and outcomes research, 3%.  Scientific model systems, 5%.

Source: NCI Funded Research Portfolio. Only projects with assigned common scientific outline area codes are included. A description of relevant research projects can be found on the NCI Funded Research Portfolio Web site.

Other NCI programs and activities relevant to pancreatic cancer include:

Selected Advances in Pancreatic Cancer Research

  • Overexpression of the transcription factor forkhead box L1 (FOXL1) in human pancreatic cancer cells in culture suppressed their growth and invasion and also inhibited tumor growth in a mouse model. Low expression of FOXL1 in resected pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) was associated with poor prognosis. These findings suggest that FOXL1 is a candidate tumor suppressor. Published June 2013. [PubMed Abstract]
  • Matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) drive the transformation of pancreatic acinar cells into the duct-like cells that contribute to the development of pancreatic cancer, suggesting that MMP inhibitors may be efficiently applied to block this early event. Published August 2013. [PubMed Abstract]
  • In a clinical trial of intraoperative gemcitabine infusion during curative resection of patients with PDAC, researchers developed, validated, and applied methods to quantify drug delivery and response for individual tumors by using measurements of transport phenomena from CT scans, suggesting that an approach that uses biophysical markers obtained from CT scans may help direct cancer treatment and improve the survival of patients with PDAC. Published March 2014. [PubMed Abstract]
  • A genome-wide association study identified several chromosomal regions associated with increased risk for pancreatic cancer. Published August 2014. [PubMed Abstract]

Additional Resources for Pancreatic Cancer

  • Posted: November 5, 2014