Rates of pancreatic cancer rising, particularly among younger women

Among women ages 15 to 34 years, pancreatic cancer incidence rates rose by 6.45% per year in 2001 to 2018, according to a study using nationwide data covering about two-thirds of the U.S. population.

A recent study found a rapidly growing rate of pancreatic cancer in younger women, with a more than 200% increase from 2001 to 2018.

Researchers studied pancreatic cancer age-adjusted incidence rates during those years using the CDC's National Program of Cancer Registries database without Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) data. The primary goal was confirming the rising incidence of pancreatic cancer in younger women found in SEER data. Secondary aims were to investigate the role of demographics and characteristics such as race, histopathological subtype, tumor location, and stage at diagnosis. Results were published Feb. 10 by Gastroenterology.

The overall age-adjusted incidence of pancreatic cancer during the study period was 12.18 per 100,000 (95% CI, 12.14 to 12.22); rates were 10.69 per 100,000 women (95% CI, 10.64 to 10.73) and 13.95 per 100,000 men (95% CI, 13.90 to 14.01). Overall, pancreatic cancer incidence significantly increased over the study period, with an average annual percentage change of 1.17% (95% CI, 1.04% to 1.30%; P<0.001), which was similar between women and men (1.27% vs. 1.14%, respectively; P=0.37). However, among adults younger than age 55 years (53,051 cases; 42.9% women), incidence rose significantly faster among women than men (2.36% vs. 0.62% per year; P<0.001). This difference appeared to be driven by rises in incidence among Black patients and in cancers with adenocarcinoma histopathological subtype and location in the head of the pancreas, the study authors noted. Pancreatic cancer mortality remained unchanged in women but decreased in men.

The authors highlighted their findings in the subgroup of patients ages 15 to 34 years. A total of 2,452 such patients were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and the rate of annual increase was particularly high among women (6.45% [95% CI, 5.36% to 7.55%]; P<0.001) although it was also on the rise in young men (2.97% [95% CI, 1.69% to 4.27%]; P<0.001). The trend did not show signs of slowing down, they noted. The exact cause is unclear and may be driven by sex-based disproportional exposure or response to known or yet-to-be explored risk factors, they concluded.

“Our analysis of [pancreatic cancer] incidence based on the stage-at-diagnosis of the tumors suggests that the younger women are experiencing a greater increase in the incidence of tumors diagnosed at a localized stage compared to men,” the authors wrote. “Given that tumors diagnosed at an early stage have better outcomes, this may explain the non-increasing mortality trend in younger women, compared to the decreasing mortality trend in younger men.”