Pancreatic cancer ‘could be detected THREE YEARS EARLIER’
Pancreatic cancer could be diagnosed up to three years earlier if people weighed themselves and checked their blood sugar regularly, experts say.
Each year, more than 10,000 people in the UK and 60,000 in the US are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
It has a tragically high death rate because about 90 percent of people are diagnosed too late for surgery, which is the only cure.
A study of more than 43,000 people in England showed that cancer can be detected three years earlier than now.
Then people in the early stages of pancreatic cancer develop abnormally high blood sugar.
Each year more than 10,000 people in the UK and 60,000 in the US are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer
Cancer could be detected two years earlier than it is now if people’s weights were measured regularly, researchers suggest.
Then people with early pancreatic cancer become noticeably malnourished compared to people of a similar age.
Weight loss and high blood sugar are major flags for pancreatic cancer, which has killed people including actors Alan Rickman, John Hurt and Patrick Swayze.
Tracking one’s weight and blood sugar over time is known to help identify early, undiagnosed pancreatic cancer.
But new findings suggest that comparing one person’s weight and blood sugar changes with those of other, similar people could greatly increase the chances of early diagnosis.
Researchers compared the body mass index (BMI) and blood sugar measurements of 8,777 pancreatic cancer patients with those of nearly 35,000 age- and sex-matched people without pancreatic cancer.
Looking at the readings in the five years to diagnosis for the patients and the same time period in people without cancer, it is clear that the differences appeared very early.
dr. Agnieszka Lemanska, who led the study from the University of Surrey, said: ‘Significant weight loss and increases in blood glucose could be detected in patients years before they are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.’
But Stunt, executive director of Pancreatic Cancer Action and co-author of the study, said: ‘I’m one of the one per cent who survive pancreatic cancer for more than 10 years, and it’s a lonely place.’
In the early stages of pancreatic cancer, blood sugar rises because the damaged organ does not produce enough insulin – the hormone that keeps blood sugar under control.
Weight loss and high blood sugar are major flags for pancreatic cancer, which has killed people including actors Alan Rickman, John Hurt and Patrick Swayze
Tumors can cause the body to burn more calories than usual, leading to unexpected weight loss.
The study, published in the journal PLOS One, found that people with pancreatic cancer had a BMI almost three units lower than a comparison group of people their age when they were diagnosed.
The average BMI of the cancer patients, which is obtained by dividing a person’s weight by their height, was 25.7, compared to an average BMI of 28.4 seen in people without cancer.
Importantly, the change in weight of people with cancer was statistically different from that of other people in the average two years before diagnosis.
But despite the importance of BMI, more than a third of cancer patients were not weighed by their doctor in the year before diagnosis.
This shows the importance of regular weigh-ins, according to the researchers, who had to carry out their research using sporadic readings available at GP appointments.
Regular blood tests would also be useful, and in the future could be fed with BMI measurements into algorithms to determine pancreatic cancer risk and flag those at risk.
The study found that blood sugar increased significantly in people with cancer two years before diagnosis, compared to non-cancer patients.
Weight loss was found to be particularly important for pancreatic cancer risk in people with diabetes, while increased blood sugar was more associated with pancreatic cancer risk for those without diabetes.
Diabetes and pancreatic cancer are often seen together, but diabetes, like pancreatic cancer, often goes undiagnosed.
Weighing and reading blood sugar could help diagnose both diabetes and pancreatic cancer, allowing cancer patients to be rushed for scans and life-saving surgery.
WHAT IS PANCREATIC CANCER?
Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest forms of the disease, and about 95 percent of people who get it die from it.
Joan Crawford, Patrick Swayze and Luciano Pavarotti died of pancreatic cancer.
It is the sixth most common cause of cancer death in the UK – around 10,000 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the UK each year, with around 55,000 in the US.
WHAT IS THE CAUSE?
It is caused by abnormal and uncontrolled growth of cells in the pancreas – a large gland in the digestive system.
WHO IS AT GREATEST RISK?
Most cases (90 percent) are in people over 55 years old.
About half of all new cases occur in people age 75 or older.
One in 10 cases is attributed to genetics.
Other possible causes include age, smoking and other health conditions, including diabetes.
WHY IS IT SO DEADLY?
There is no screening method for pancreatic cancer.
Pancreatic cancer usually shows no symptoms in the early stages, when it can be more easily managed.
Sufferers usually start to develop symptoms – jaundice and abdominal pain – around stage 3 or 4, when it has likely already spread to other organs.
WHAT ARE THE TREATMENT OPTIONS?
The only effective treatment is to remove the pancreas.
This has proved largely ineffective for those whose cancer has spread to other organs.
In these cases, palliative care is advised to ease their pain at the end of life.