Pancreatic cancer epidemiology

Low prevalence masks a dangerous threat

Pancreatic cancer occurs later in life: According to the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) database (2006-2010), less than 3% of all US cases are diagnosed in patients younger than 45 years old.1

A review of the literature shows that more than 80% of cases are diagnosed in people over 60 years of age, and almost 50% of patients have distant metastases at presentation.2

Based on 2008 statistics compiled by GLOBOCAN, about 279,000 new cases of pancreatic cancer are diagnosed worldwide each year.3

Prevalence of pancreatic cancer remains low—approximately 41,600 people in the United States had pancreatic cancer in 2010 according to SEER.1 Literature shows that disease mortality, however, remains as high as 99%.4

The SEER database also shows that for every 12.2 patients diagnosed per 100,000, 10.9 will die from pancreatic cancer,1 despite the best efforts of researchers and clinicians to improve survival outcomes in patients.


Understanding the disease landscape

Worldwide, GLOBOCAN data shows pancreatic cancer is only the 13th most common tumor type,3 yet research shows it is the 4th leading cause of cancer-related fatalities in the Western world.5

Other cancers, such as prostate,6 colorectal,7 and lung8 may be more common, but few are more lethal than pancreatic. Unfortunately, pancreatic cancer is fatal in 99% of people diagnosed with it.4

Across all patients in the United States with pancreatic cancer, one-year survival hovers around 26%, while relative 5-year survival is 6%.9

Globally overall 5-year survival rate is also among the lowest of all cancer types.10

How long patients live depends to a large degree on how advanced their disease is when they are diagnosed. One analysis of US cancer patient databases showed median survival is around 19 months for patients with early-stage disease who undergo pancreatectomy11; while a recent literature review shows survival is between 9 and 15 months for locally advanced disease and about 3 to 6 months for patients diagnosed with advanced metastatic disease.12

SEER Data (US) Incidience (per 100,000)
5-year relative survival %
(local) (2001-2007)
5-year relative survival %
(metastatic) (2001-2007)
Lung6 62.0 52.2 3.6
Colorectal7 47.2 90.1 11.7
Prostate (men)8 156.0 100.0 28.7
Breast (women)13 124.0 98.6 23.3
Pancreas*1 12.2 24.1 2.0
* Date range for pancreatic cancer data differs from rest of table; Incidence rates = 2006-2010; 5-year survival rates = 2003-2009.


Last information update: September, 2013


  1. SEER Stat Fact Sheets. Cancer of the pancreas. Accessed June 6, 2013.
  2. Sharma C, Eltawil KM, Renfrew PD, Walsh MJ, Molinari M. Advances in diagnosis, treatment and palliation of pancreatic carcinoma: 1990-2010. World J Gastroenterol. 2011;17(7):867-897.
  3. WCRF Cancer Statistics. Accessed May 16, 2013.
  4. Ghadirian P, Lynch HT, Krewski D. Epidemiology of pancreatic cancer: an overview. Cancer Detect Prev. 2003;27:87-93.
  5. Hariharan D, Saied A, Kocher HM. Analysis of mortality rates for pancreatic cancer across the world. HPB. 2008;10:58-62.
  6. SEER Stat Fact Sheets. Cancer of the prostate. Accessed June 6, 2013.
  7. SEER Stat Fact Sheets. Cancer of the colon and rectum. Accessed June 6, 2013.
  8. SEER Stat Fact Sheets. Cancer of the lung. Accessed June 6, 2013.
  9. American Cancer Society; Cancer Facts & Figures 2012. Atlanta: American Cancer Society; 2012.
  10. Chang DK, Merrett ND, Biankin AV; for the NSW Pancreatic Cancer Network. Improving outcomes for operable pancreatic cancer: is access to safer surgery the problem? J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2008;23(7Pt1):1036-1045.
  11. Bilimoria KY, Bentrem DJ, Ko CY, Stewart AK, Winchester DP, Talamonti MS. National failure to operate on early stage pancreatic cancer. Ann Surg. 2007;246(2):173-180.
  12. Vincent A, Herman J, Schulick R, Hruban RH, Goggins M. Pancreatic cancer. Lancet. 2011;378(9791):607-620.
  13. SEER Stat Fact Sheets. Cancer of the breast. Accessed June 6, 2013.