Although pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma is considered a rapidly progressive disease, mathematical models estimate that it takes many years for an initiating pancreatic cancer cell to grow into an advanced stage cancer. In order to estimate the time it takes for a pancreatic cancer to progress through different tumor, node, metastasis (TNM) stages, we compared the mean age of patients with pancreatic cancers of different sizes and stages.
Patient age, tumour size, stage and demographic information were analysed for 13 131 patients with pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma entered into the National Cancer Institute's Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) database. Multiple linear regression models for age were generated, adjusting for patient ethnicity, gender, tumour location and neoplastic grades.
African-American ethnicity and male gender were associated with an earlier age at diagnosis. Patients with stage I cancers (mean age 64.8 years) were on average 1.3 adjusted years younger at diagnosis than those with stage IV cancers (p=0.001). Among patients without distant metastases, those with T1 stage cancers were on average 1.06 and 1.19 adjusted years younger, respectively, than patients with T3 or T4 cancers (p=0.03 for both). Among patients with stage IIB cancers, those with T1/T2 cancers were 0.79 adjusted years younger than those with T3 cancers (p=0.06). There was no significant difference in the mean adjusted age of patients with stage IA versus stage IB cancers.
These results are consistent with the hypothesis that once pancreatic ductal adenocarcinomas become detectable clinically progression from low-stage to advanced-stage disease is rapid.