Pancreatic cancer rates are increasing in women age 55 and younger. Experts don’t yet know why.

Pancreatic cancer rates are increasing in women age 55 and younger.  Experts don’t yet know why.

According to a recent study, pancreatic cancer rates are increasing in women under the age of 55. (artwork: Blake Cale; Photo: Getty Images)

Allison Lippman-Kuban was just 31 when she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2017. Lippman-Kuban told Yahoo Life she developed the first symptoms of the disease after returning from vacation in France with his boyfriend.

“I had severe abdominal pain that pulled me in the back,” she says. “I had weight loss, fatigue, difficulty digesting food – lots of gastrointestinal issues.”

Lippman-Kuban contacted her doctor and had scheduled tests with specialists, including a colonoscopy, to try to figure out what was behind her sudden pain. “But the pain got so bad that I ended up going to the hospital,” she says. She was hospitalized for five days, where she underwent a series of tests. “I left with a diagnosis of neuroendocrine cancer and was later told it was stage 4 pancreatic cancer,” she says.

“I was just shocked,” Lippman-Kuban said. “I questioned everything, including why my boyfriend was staying with me. I had just been promoted at my job – I was nervous about losing that. Then the fear of it all set in. is faded, and it was more, How long do I have to live?

Lippman-Kuban says she was told “to do chemo for as long as possible,” but her doctor also sent her biopsy to a lab for genetic sequencing. Her specific biomarker (a gene, protein or other substance that provides information about a type of cancer) qualified her for a clinical trial at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. “I have been involved in this trial for five and a half years now,” she said.

She says she had a “lifestyle change” during the trial. “I stopped the chemo, I take two pills in the morning and two pills in the afternoon,” she says. “Within a month, my strength started coming back, my hair started coming back, and I was able to start rediscovering myself.”

Lippman-Kuban’s cancer has not gone away, but his tumors have shrunk by 70%. “I now treat my cancer as a chronic disease,” she says. “I just take my meds in the morning and at night. I don’t have any side effects, which is great.”

Teona Ducre was just 41 when she was diagnosed with stage 3 pancreatic cancer in 2016. She tells Yahoo Life she had “extreme pain” in her lower stomach and lower back. back, as well as exhaustion, indigestion and “substantial” weight loss. “When I was initially diagnosed, I was in disbelief and didn’t fully appreciate the importance of the fact that pancreatic cancer is most often terminal,” she says.

Ducre learned about the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN), a patient advocacy and research organization, and received advice about his form of cancer, as well as what to expect for treatment. She then underwent six months of chemotherapy, followed by surgery and another five months of chemotherapy. She is now a pancreatic cancer survivor. “Survival is not a specific date in the future when the tumor disappeared – survival is each day that a person wakes up and hasn’t succumbed to the disease,” she says.

Paula Mack Drill was diagnosed with stage 2 pancreatic cancer five years ago when she was in her 50s. She tells Yahoo Life that she had been on a sabbatical for three months from her job as a rabbi and had “just been on the healthiest, most toxic diet” when she started having symptoms. Drill hosted people at her house for the Passover Seder and continued to eat a chocolate and caramel dessert that she jokingly calls “Matzo Crack.” “Around 5 a.m. the next morning, I had terrible stomach pains, which I suspect were due to drinking Matzo Crack,” she says. “But it got worse and worse as the day went on.”

The pain got so bad that Drill went to the emergency room. She was first diagnosed with pancreatitis – inflammation of the pancreas – but was later told doctors had found a tumour. They suspected that she had pancreatic cancer (which could only be confirmed with surgery) and that she needed surgery to remove the tumor, which was planned for three weeks from this that time.

“I was in deep denial,” she says of her diagnosis, noting that she didn’t look up anything about pancreatic cancer online. “I didn’t understand that pancreatic cancer is a killer,” she added.

Drill’s physician was Dr. Russell C. Langan, Director of Surgical Oncology, Northern Region at RWJBarnabas Health, Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey. “He saved my life,” she said. He performed a procedure known as the Whipple procedure, to remove the head of the pancreas, where Drill’s tumor was.

“It’s a very intense and very difficult operation, and he came to see me after the operation and was practically crying,” Drill said. “He managed to remove the tumor. I was encapsulated. It hadn’t spread.”

Drill, who was diagnosed with stage 2 pancreatic cancer, says she then underwent “intensive chemo” twice a month for six months, followed by radiation therapy.

Now she says she feels “100% better”. She just had a five-year-old CT scan that was clear. “Now when I walk in, it’s like a little party,” says Drill. “Everyone is happy and we have a little party. I feel good.”

Pancreatic cancer rates rise in women under 55

While cancer rates have fallen in the United States as a whole in recent years, there has been a disturbing increase in pancreatic cancer diagnoses. Specifically, rates increase in women under 55.

A study published in the journal Gastroenterology in February analyzed data from nearly 455,000 patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer between 2001 and 2018 and found that while rates of the disease have increased overall, they have climbed in younger women . Specifically, the researchers found that pancreatic cancer rates in women under 55 increased by 2.4% compared to men of the same age. The researchers also noted in the study that the trend did not appear to be “slowing down”.

Pancreatic cancer has a reputation for being a deadly disease – its overall five-year survival rate is just 12% – and it was once known as a cancer for the elderly. What’s more, it usually doesn’t cause symptoms until it’s in an advanced stage, Dr. Anne Noonan, a medical oncologist at Comprehensive Cancer Center-Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital in Ohio, told Yahoo Life. State University and the Richard J. Solove Research Institute. .

While the majority of pancreatic cancer cases are people in their 60s, doctors say they’ve seen an increase in younger patients in recent years. “We’re definitely seeing more patients with pancreatic cancer, and some patients are younger than the typical age that we typically see it at,” Noonan said. “Sometimes the patients are between 40, 30 and even 20 years old.”

Pancreatic cancer is “still largely a disease of aging,” Dr. Shubham Pant, associate professor in the department of gastrointestinal medical oncology at MD Anderson Cancer Center, told Yahoo Life. “We’re seeing a handful of more younger patients,” he says. “Before, we saw one or two a year. Now we see five or more a year. It’s increasing, but it’s a relative increase.”

Why are pancreatic cancer rates increasing in women?

It’s not entirely clear. The most recent study found only an increase in cases – and did not explore why they are on the rise. Langan says it’s possible this is due to increased obesity rates or alcohol consumption, but it could also be due to a variety of causes. “I would prefer the cause to be multifactorial,” he told Yahoo Life.

“There are a number of theories,” says Noonan, including that pancreatic cancer may be linked to a high-fat diet, smoked and processed meats, physical inactivity, and certain genetic mutations.

“But it’s very hard to say right now,” says Pant. “Although the numbers are increasing, they are still very low.”

According to the American Cancer Society, symptoms of pancreatic cancer can be easily confused with those of other diseases, but may include jaundice, stomach or back pain, weight loss, and lack of appetite as well as nausea and vomiting.

Lippman-Kuban stresses the importance of getting evaluated by a doctor if you develop symptoms. “If I hadn’t continued the pain and the treatment, I don’t know if I would be here,” she says.

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