Pancreatic cancer rates are rising fastest in younger women, according to new research.
Unhealthy behaviors such as drinking, smoking and eating too much junk food could be behind the phenomenon.
What is more, the number of deaths from the disease are only falling in men.
Located just behind the stomach, the pancreas secretes enzymes and hormones that help digestion food and process sugars.
The disease is one of the world’s deadliest forms of cancer. It has the worst survival rates in comparison to other common cancers, with only one in 20 patients living longer than five years after diagnosis.
Traditionally, it is more common among men.
But scientists found cases among women under 55 increased 2.4 percent more than men of the same age. Black women are partcularly prone.
Senior author Dr. Srinivas Gaddam, of Cedars-Sinai Cancer, Los Angeles, said: “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.
“There is a need to understand these trends, and to make changes today so this doesn’t affect women disproportionately in the future.”
The U.S. team combed data from the National Program of Cancer Registries (NCPR) database, which represents almost two-thirds of the population, on patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer between 2001 and 2018.
Rates increased among both women and men but while proportions were similar among older people a gender gap emerged among younger peers.
Dr. Gaddam said: “And while we are reporting improving survival in pancreatic cancer each year, that improvement is largely among men. The mortality rate among women is not improving.”
It is important for future studies to examine the cause of these trends. But he stressed at this point the increase is small and his findings should not because for alarm.
Dr. Gaddam said: “The data shows us a small increase in risk of pancreatic cancer.
“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.”
Every year more than 10,000 people in the UK and 60,000 in the U.S. are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
It has claimed the lives of a host of celebrities including Alan Rickman, John Hurt and Patrick Swayze.
The “silent killer” often spreads aggressively – making it hard to treat and a terrifying diagnosis for patients and their loved ones.
Patients tend to be diagnosed in the later stages due to there being no screening program and the symptoms generally being vague, like upper abdominal pain.
The pancreas is also situated near other vital organs, like the liver and intestines.
People with chronic abdominal pain are often concerned they have pancreatic cancer. But that is usually a sign of another condition, said Dr. Gaddam.
However, people experiencing unexplained weight loss or jaundice – a yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes – should seek medical attention.
These are potential signs of pancreatic cancer or another serious medical issue.
Dr Gaddam and colleagues are planning to examine potential differences between pancreatic tumours in women and in men.
Added Dr. Dan Theodorescu, director of Cedars-Sinai Cancer: “This continuing work will help us to evaluate the effectiveness of new healthcare interventions, with the goal of identifying and addressing disparities in patient outcomes and access to effective treatment.
“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 study is in the journal Gastroenterology.
Produced in association with SWNS Talker.