The AIHW’s biennial report on the heath of Australian’s- Australia’s Health 2018 was released last month. The report marks a milestone in the almost uniformly negative space of Pancreatic Cancer statistics. And it’s a very positive milestone at that.
Pancreatic Cancer patients are now surviving longer.
The latest (from the period from 2010-2014) 5-year relative survival rate for Pancreatic Cancer in Females is at 9.2% and males at 9.1%. This is an almost 2% increase from the 2013 figure.
In 2018 it is reported that the risk of death from Pancreatic Cancer before age 65 is 1 in 167. It drastically increases with age, and before age 85 jumps to 1 in 73.
When I first started working in Pancreatic cancer research in 2006, if you were diagnosed that year you would have had a 5.2% chance of surviving 5 years. Contrast this back to 1988 where you would have had 3.4% chance. We are seeing these survival rates growing slightly, but significantly. And if you ask anyone whom this disease has ever touched, this is significant.
But Pancreatic Cancer is still on the list of reported “low survival cancers”. Consistent with previous reports, 5-year survival rates were reported highest for testicular cancer (98%) and prostate cancer (95%). They were lowest for mesothelioma (5.8%) and pancreatic cancer (9.1%).
Longer survival but rising incidence
Whilst we are surviving longer, Pancreatic Cancer incidence is rising. As of 2014, 3078 new cases are now diagnosed every year. Others have predicted this increasing incidence trend, to the point that Pancreatic Cancer has been projected to surpass breast, colon and prostate cancers to become the second leading cause of cancer death by 2030.
Traditionally, cancers with the highest incidence rates attract more attention from government agencies, such as the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), as well as the pharmaceutical industry. In Australia the “big 4” are prostate, breast and colorectal cancers, and melanoma.
The link Between Investment in Research
It is well documented that in many cancers, survival rates are inextricably linked to the investment in research. In a 2017 parliamentary inquiry into low survival cancers, the impact of effective research investment was clearly demonstrated by the increased survival rates for people with certain cancers. In the period 2012-2016 The National Health and Medical Research Council invested $112,557,616 into breast cancer and $60,588,720 into melanoma research. These two cancers have reported 5-year survival rates of 90.2% and 90% respectively. During the same time period Pancreatic Cancer received a much lower $33,348,795 in funding.
So the data is there to tell us what we need to do.
We need to continue to invest in Pancreatic Cancer. Heavily. And in all aspects. Whilst research funding is the foundation; awareness, advocacy and best practice clinical care are also critical to increasing survival rates. We also need to capitalise on the incredible researchers already working in Pancreatic Cancer. Together we can change the outcome trajectory of this disease.
Sources: The Australia’s Health 2018 report contains data collated by the Australian Cancer Database for the AIHW.