While rates of pancreatic cancer are increasing for both men and women, they're climbing the fastest among young women, particularly those who are Black.
“We can tell that the rate of pancreatic cancer among women is rising rapidly, which calls attention to the need for further research in this area,” said senior study author Dr. Srinivas Gaddam, associate director of Pancreatic Biliary Research at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles. “There's a need to understand these trends, and to make changes today so this doesn't affect women disproportionately in the future.”
The increase is small, however, and shouldn't be alarming, but future studies will need to examine these trends, Gaddam said.
“The data shows us a small increase in risk of pancreatic cancer,” he said in a Cedars-Sinai news release. “And that awareness might refocus people on the need to stop smoking, reduce alcohol use, eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly and manage their weight. These lifestyle changes all help decrease the risk of pancreatic cancer.”
In the study, researchers used data from the National Program of Cancer Registries database, which represents approximately 65% of the U.S. population, on patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer between 2001 and 2018.
The investigators found that rates of pancreatic cancer increased among both women and men.
But rates among women under the age of 55 rose 2.4% higher than rates among men of the same age. Similar increased rates were observed among older men and women.
And rates among young Black women rose just over 2% higher than among young Black men.
“And while we're reporting improving survival in pancreatic cancer each year, that improvement is largely among men,” Gaddam added. “The mortality rate among women is not improving.”
Reasons may include the type and location of tumors.
Rates of pancreatic head adenocarcinoma, which is an especially aggressive and deadly type of tumor situated at the head of the pancreas, appear to be increasing, according to the study.
The job of the pancreas is to secrete enzymes and hormones that help the body digest food and process sugars. It is located just behind the stomach.
Pancreatic cancer has the highest death rate of all major cancers. It is more common among men than women.
Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, Jeopardy's Alex Trebek, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and actor Patrick Swayze all died from pancreatic cancer.
Unexplained weight loss and jaundice can be signs of pancreatic cancer. People experiencing those symptoms should seek medical attention. Chronic abdominal pain is usually a sign of another condition.
Gaddam plans to research the causes of these trends, including examining potential differences between pancreatic tumors in women and in men.
“This continuing work will help us to evaluate the effectiveness of new health care interventions, with the goal of identifying and addressing disparities in patient outcomes and access to effective treatment,” said Dr. Dan Theodorescu, director of Cedars-Sinai Cancer. “This is an ongoing focus throughout Cedars-Sinai Cancer as we serve our diverse population and can also inform public health policies to benefit patients everywhere.”
The findings were published online Feb. 10 in the journal Gastroenterology.
The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more on pancreatic cancer.
SOURCE: Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, news release, Feb. 10, 2023