Scientists Predict Rise In Deaths From Pancreatic Cancer And Young-Onset Colorectal Cancer
A new report has predicted that colorectal cancer will become the leading cause of cancer death in people aged between 20 and 49 by the year 2040. Pancreatic cancer will also become the second leading cause of cancer death overall by 2030, overtaking colorectal cancer to lie behind lung cancer in first place.
The work published in the journal JAMA Network Open predicts that the incidence of certain cancer types and cause of cancer deaths in the United States will be very different in 2040 compared to the present day. By 2040, the report predicts a greater number of people with melanoma and more deaths from pancreatic cancer and liver cancer. In better news, the report predicts there will be a decline in people with prostate cancer and fewer deaths from breast cancer.
So how can these predictions be used to help prepare for the future of oncology and cancer care?
“We hope that these estimates bring attention and spur research efforts to multiple cancer types especially the deadlier cancers such as pancreatic, liver, and colorectal cancer in the younger cohort,” said Lola Rahib, PhD, lead author of the report and Director of Scientific and Clinical Affairs at Cancer Commons in Mountain View, California.
The predictions were calculated by combining population growth projections with cancer incidence and death trends in all racial and ethnic groups.
“Cancer incidence and mortality projections are enormously useful in guiding the oncology community in determining how to optimally deploy its resources to areas of greatest need,” said James M. Cleary, MD, PhD, oncologist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Massachusetts. “These statistics help leaders in academia, industry, and funding agencies make decisions about allocation of resources and establishment of priorities for the years ahead,” added Cleary.
The report predicts more young people will die from colorectal cancer
One of the most concerning predictions in the new report is that of a rapid rise in colorectal cancer incidences and deaths in people between the ages of 20 and 49. Awareness about younger people with colorectal cancer has been steadily rising since the death of Black Panther actor Chadwick Boseman from the disease age 43 in 2020, but researchers still don’t know why the number of young people with the disease is increasing.
“These estimates are alarming, and we urge the cancer community to come together and work with advocates to increase awareness and research funding to ultimately make advancements in both therapeutics and screening programs for this younger cohort,” said Rahib.
The screening age for colorectal cancer has recently been reduced from from 50 to 45 years and Rahib hopes that this might mean that the actual numbers turn out to not be as bad as predicted.
“As this [earlier screening] is implemented in the next several years and with heightened attention from this study, we hope that our estimates for both diagnoses and deaths of colorectal cancer will trend less rapidly,” said Rahib.
“Consistent with other recent data, this report demonstrates an alarming rise in the incidence of young-onset colorectal cancer. These statistics project that colorectal cancer will be the leading cause of cancer death in patients aged 20 – 49 by 2040. The cause of the increasing cases of young-onset colorectal cancer is still very unclear and intensive large-scale research efforts are underway,” said Cleary.
Deaths from pancreatic and liver cancers will continue to increase
“A significant increase in deaths from pancreatic and liver cancers is estimated to continue in the next 2 decades. The increase in pancreatic cancer deaths arises from several factors: Pancreatic cancer is usually diagnosed at an advanced stage when surgery is not possible. There are no standard screening tools, and treatments are limited. Even when patients undergo surgery, pancreatic cancer often recurs,” said Rahib.
Pancreatic cancer survival rates have remained woefully low for several decades and even new immunotherapy drugs that have made significant differences in diseases such as melanoma, have yet to result in improvements in pancreatic cancer survival.
“Unfortunately, the vast majority of pancreatic and colorectal cancers are resistant to currently available immunotherapies. Because of this, developing effective immunotherapeutic strategies directed against “immunologically cold” malignancies, like pancreatic and colorectal cancer, is a widely considered one of the holy grails of modern oncology,” said Cleary.
Deaths from breast cancer will continue to decline despite it being the most common cancer type
The report predicts that breast cancer will still be the most common type of cancer with 364,000 cases diagnosed per year. However, it will decrease to the fifth most common cause of cancer death, with 30,000 deaths per year, down from 44,130 predicted to occur this year.
Survival from breast cancer overall has been increasing since 2007, but the prognosis for some people with breast cancer is still poor. This includes people who are diagnosed in the later stages of the disease and those with metastatic breast cancer, which has spread to other parts of the body. Black women with breast cancer also still have around a 10% less chance of survival than white women.