Pancreatic cancer rates are rising among Americans, with the most pronounced increases in younger women, according to a new study.
The new national analysis of nearly two decades of data found that rates in women under 55 increased by 2.4% more than in their male counterparts. Young black women, in particular, saw their rates increase 2.23% more than those of black men of the same age, researchers report in Gastroenterology.
While pancreatic cancer is still more common among men, “over the last 20 years, the risk has increased in women and, if this continues, over time it will be more common in women,” study co-author Dr. Srinivas Gaddam, chief of the pancreatic screening and early detection program at Cedars-Sinai Cancer Center in Los Angeles, told TODAY.com. “This underscores the need to invest more research dollars into why this is happening and how we can prevent it.”
Pancreatic cancer is the tenth most common cancer, but it is the third deadliest cancer, says Gaddam. “It’s rare, but when it does occur, it takes life very quickly.”
One of the reasons pancreatic cancer is so deadly is that it is most often detected at a late stage, says Gaddam. He adds that warning signs and symptoms are rare and that abdominal pain rarely occurs as a result of pancreatic cancer.
While 42% of patients diagnosed with an early-stage tumor survive at least five years, only 3% of those with metastatic disease, where the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, survive at least five years, according to the American Cancer Society. . .
To take a closer look at pancreatic cancer trends, Gaddam and his colleagues turned to data from the National Cancer Registry Program, which represents 64.5% of the US population. Analyzing the data, researchers identified 454,611 patients diagnosed between 2001 and 2018.
Cancer rates have increased among both men and women during these nearly two decades, but they have increased more in women, especially women under 55. .
The new study’s findings are “provocative but not completely surprising,” said Dr. Diane Simeone, director of the Pancreatic Cancer Center at NYU Langone Health in New York City, told TODAY.com. “There needs to be more focus on understanding risk factors and developing early detection strategies for this disease.”
Until a good screening test is developed, there are strategies to detect pancreatic cancer early, says Simeone. First, because more than a dozen genetic mutations that increase the risk of cancer have been discovered, people with a family history of the disease should be screened for these mutations.
Additionally, certain factors, including smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, obesity, and diabetes, can increase your risk of pancreatic cancer, says Simeone. People who appear to be at higher risk may be checked with MRI or endoscopic ultrasound.
The trend of increasing rates of early-onset cancer is important, “and it’s not just pancreatic cancer,” said Dr. Fay Kastrinos, director of the Muzzi Mirza Pancreatic Cancer Prevention and Genetics Program at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York City. TODAY. with.
Still, says Kastrinos, although there are increasing rates in women, the number of patients is small overall. “So we don’t want alarm bells going off,” adds Kastrinos. “But the trend is important.”
Future research will need to address a specific question: what is it about women that is causing this increase? “Is it a sex-specific factor?” says Kastrinos. “There may be environmental exposures and risks, and whenever there are early-onset cancers, we need to look at the genetics.”
The Doctor. Suneel Kamath was also impressed by the increase in early-onset disease.
“What’s more concerning is pancreatic cancers in very young people, teenagers, twenties and thirties,” Kamath, a gastrointestinal oncologist at the Cleveland Clinic, told TODAY.com. “They are largely unexplained.”
Right now, we don’t know what’s causing pancreatic cancer to rise, says Kamath. “There are many theories,” she adds. “Diet can be a big part of that. There has been a huge increase in consumption of processed foods and red meat, and people are eating less leafy green vegetables.”
Americans are also more sedentary than they used to be, and that may contribute to their cancer risk, says Kamath.
Another possible cause could be the use of antibiotics. “This generation is much more exposed to antibiotics,” adds Kamath. “Every cold led to the prescription of antibiotics, when most were viruses. It can affect the microbiome, which can affect a lot of things.”
Another possible explanation could be the growing number of overweight or obese Americans, including younger and younger children, says Kamath. “It tracks this trend in pancreatic cancer,” she adds. “The longer you are at an unhealthy weight can also be taken into account.”