The incidence of pancreatic cancer – one of the deadliest forms of cancer – is on the rise in Portugal.
While it used to be a type of cancer that affected mostly people aged 70 or older, there has been a “significant increase” of cases among patients aged 30 to 50.
Says the president of the Portuguese Pancreas Club (a section of the Portuguese Society of Gastroenterology), a cancer that was considered “rare” is becoming more frequent and has seen a 30% increase in incidence in the last decade, with the number of annual cases rising from around 1,200-1,300 to around 1,800.
While genetics, alcoholism and smoking can all play a role in the development of this type of cancer, Ricardo Rio Tinto says there are signs that the rising number of cases could be related to “environmental factors” such as exposure to cancerous substances from fertilisers and pesticides as well as plastic components. However, the “molecular aspects that lead to the appearance of the tumour” have yet to be determined.
Changes to our diet, such as higher consumption of processed foods or food stored in “synthetic recipients”, could also be to blame, said Rio Tinto, who recommended following eating habits that follow the Mediterranean diet principles.
This type of diet is linked to the prevention of a series of tumours, although there is no “clear scientific evidence” that proves it reduces the incidence of pancreatic cancer, he told Lusa news agency.
Pancreatic cancer is a particularly deadly form of cancer, with a mortality rate of around 95%. Surgery is only recommended to around 20% of patients diagnosed with it, and 80% of patients who undergo surgery die in the following years due to causes related to the cancer.
The main issue is that pancreatic cancer is usually detected at a very advanced stage as there is no exam to detect it early.
“The pancreas, being an organ that is relatively hidden, is very hard to access for any kind of early diagnosis. Apart from being hidden, it is near other very important structures,” he said.
There are small signs that people should be aware of, such as changes to their metabolism, inexplicable weight loss, sudden appearance of diabetes and monitoring any pre-malignant lesions that may be found on the pancreas, such as cysts. People with a family history of the disease should also be particularly cautious.
Tinto believes that there may be “liquid biopsies” in the future where the possibility of developing a tumour may be evaluated through a blood test, but so far “these do not exist”.
With the Covid-19 pandemic, the doctor stresses that “tumours in general have been left forgotten” and urges anyone with any symptoms to seek medical advice.