Investigators have confirmed that rates of pancreatic cancer are rising overall, but they are rising faster among younger female patients—particularly among patients who identified as Black—than among male patients of the same age, according to a new study published by Abboud et al in Gastroenterology.
“We can tell that the rate of pancreatic cancer among [female patients] is rising rapidly, which calls attention to the need for further research in this area,” stressed senior study author Srinivas Gaddam, MD, Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine and Associate Director of Pancreatic Biliary Research at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. “There’s a need to understand these trends, and to make changes today so this doesn’t affect [female patients] disproportionately in the future,” he suggested.
Pancreatic cancer has the highest mortality rate of all the cancer types—accounting for 3% of all cancer deaths in the United States—and is more common among male patients than female patients.
Study Methods and Results
In the new large-scale, nationwide study, the investigators examined data on patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer between 2001 and 2018 from the National Program of Cancer Registries database, and found that rates of pancreatic cancer had increased among both female patients and male patients during that timeframe. Unexpectedly, the rates among female patients younger than age 55 years rose 2.4% higher than rates among male patients of the same age—while similar increased rates were observed among older male and female patients. Furthermore, rates among young Black female patients rose 2.23% higher than among young Black male patients.
“[W]hile we’re reporting improving survival [rates] in pancreatic cancer each year, that improvement is largely among [male patients],” Dr. Gaddam revealed, noting that “The mortality rate among [female patients] is not improving.”
One possible explanation that the investigators cited to elucidate their findings pertained to the type and location of tumors. They found that rates of pancreatic head adenocarcinoma—an especially aggressive and fatal tumor situated at the head of the pancreas—appeared to be increasing.
While the investigators indicated that it may be important for future studies to examine the cause of these trends, they stressed that, at this point, the increase should not be cause for alarm.
“The data shows us a small increase in risk of pancreatic cancer,” Dr. Gaddam highlighted. “And that awareness might refocus [individuals] on the need to stop smoking, reduce alcohol use, [follow] a healthy diet, exercise regularly, and manage their weight. These lifestyle changes all help decrease the risk of pancreatic cancer,” he underscored.
Looking ahead, Dr. Gaddam and his colleagues hope to focus their research on determining the causes of these trends—including examining potential differences between pancreatic tumors in female and male patients.
“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,” emphasized Dan Theodorescu, MD, PhD, Professor of Surgery as well as Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, and the PHASE ONE Foundation Distinguished Chair and Director of the Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. “This is an ongoing focus throughout Cedars-Sinai as we serve our diverse population and can also inform public health policies to benefit patients everywhere,” he concluded.
Disclosure: For full disclosures of the study authors, visit gastrojournal.org.The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.