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Racial Differences Seen in Pancreatic Cancer Death Rates

FRIDAY, Nov. 15 , 2013 (HealthDay News) -- Death rates from pancreatic cancer in the United States are increasing among whites and decreasing among blacks, but rates among blacks remain much higher than among whites, study findings show.

Researchers from the American Cancer Society analyzed data on pancreatic cancer deaths in the United States between 1970 and 2009. Rates among white men decreased by 0.7 percent per year from 1970 to 1995, and then went in the opposite direction -- increasing 0.4 percent per year through 2009.

Rates among white women rose slightly between 1970 and 1984, stabilized until the late 1990s, then increased 0.5 percent per year through 2009, according to the study published online Nov. 7 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Pancreatic cancer death rates among blacks increased between 1970 and the late 1980s for women and in the early 1990s for men, and then began to fall. However, death rates remained substantially higher among black men and women than among white men and women, the investigators found.

The researchers said the disparities in pancreatic cancer death rates between blacks and whites are not fully explained by differences in smoking rates, which have decreased among blacks and whites since 1965. Smoking is one of the major causes of pancreatic cancer.

This suggests that other factors may be affecting pancreatic cancer death rates, the study authors pointed out in an American Cancer Society news release.

"This study underscores the need for urgent action on several fronts," study senior author Ahmedin Jemal said in the news release. "We need to invest more into pancreatic cancer research to understand why this disease is rising or falling in different races. In the meantime, we have to address modifiable risk factors such as obesity and smoking to reduce the future burden of pancreatic cancer in all populations."

Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer death in the United States and it is estimated that it will cause more than 38,000 deaths in 2013, according to the news release. While deaths from most other major cancers have been dropping for more than two decades, deaths from pancreatic cancer have been rising.

Smoking, obesity and eating red or processed meat have been linked to the disease, but not much is known about its major causes. Other lifestyle-related risk factors may include low vegetable and fruit consumption, physical inactivity and alcohol use.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about pancreatic cancer.

SOURCE: American Cancer Society, news release, Nov. 12, 2013