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Pancreatic cancer rates are increasing in younger women, according to a new study from Cedars-Sinai Cancer. The findings were recently published in the journal Gastroenterology.

The study looked at more than 450,000 patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer between 2001 and 2018. Researchers found that pancreatic cancer rates have been rising for both men and women, but women age 55 and under saw a 2.4% higher increase compared to men in that same age group.

The study did not determine a reason for the increase in women’s diagnoses. Researchers did note a higher incidence of pancreatic adenocarcinoma.

“We do see a more younger pancreatic cancer patient population than before. The known risk factors of pancreatic cancer are smoking, pancreatitis, obesity and genetic-related risk factors,” said Dr. Dae Won Kim, a medical oncologist in the Gastrointestinal Oncology Program at Moffitt Cancer Center. “There may be several factors associated with the study findings including increased alcohol consumption in women, an increase in smoking initiation in early adulthood and an increase in obesity. However, further studies are needed to identify all risk factors.”

According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 13% of adult women report binge drinking. The CDC says that biological differences in body structure and chemistry lead most women to absorb more alcohol, and take longer to metabolize it, making women more susceptible to the long-term negative health effects of alcohol.

Dr. Dae Won Kim, Gastrointestinal Oncology Program

Dr. Dae Won Kim, Gastrointestinal Oncology Program

“We recommend lifestyle changes including smoking cessation, reduced alcohol use, healthy diet, regular exercise, weight management and regular checkups with your primary doctor to lower the risk,” Kim said.

Pancreatic cancer has the lowest five-year survival rate of any cancer, at 10%. According to the American Cancer Society, about 64,000 Americans will be diagnosed with the disease this year.

It is not clear what causes most pancreatic cancer cases. Because of this, it is especially important to be aware of possible symptoms, including:

  • Pain in the abdomen and back
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)
  • Changes in stools (constipation or diarrhea)
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • New-onset diabetes
  • Enlargement of the gallbladder
  • Nausea, vomiting, indigestion, loss of appetite or other digestive issues

In advanced stages, patients with pancreatic cancer may also experience:

  • Blood clots that form in the deep veins (deep vein thrombosis)
  • A swollen or distended abdomen caused by a buildup of fluid