Pancreatic cancer: facts & figures

Incidence in Minnesota:

Pancreatic cancer is increasing in Minnesota

Pancreatic cancer incidence is increasing significantly in Minnesota and nationally, although pancreatic cancer mortality has not increased. African Americans in Minnesota are two times more likely to develop pancreatic cancer than white Minnesotans.

While overall incidence trends can be compared nationally, it is not possible to compare Minnesota incidence rates for pancreatic cancer before 2012 with that of other states.  Unlike other state or regional cancer registries, the Minnesota Cancer Surveillance System (MCSS) did not include cancers that were not microscopically confirmed. Pancreatic cancer (like liver or brain cancer) is one of the few types of cancer where diagnosis is often based solely on clinical evidence, without confirmation by examining the tissue under the microscope. Beginning in 2012, MCSS collected data on cancers that were clinically diagnosed via radiography, CAT scans, or MRIs. Nationally, about 30% of pancreatic cancers are clinically diagnosed only. It is likely that even within Minnesota there is variation in the likelihood of microscopic confirmation depending on the region of the state, access to good medical care and local medical practices. 

From 2012 to 2014, about 414 new cases of pancreatic cancer in males and 352 new cases in females were diagnosed in Minnesota residents each year. Survival for pancreatic cancer is extremely poor because it is hard to find early; the cancer is usually large and has metastasized (spread) by the time symptoms develop.

Pancreatic cancer cases in Minnesota

Age-adjusted rate of new pancreatic cancer cases.
Age-adjusted rate of new pancreatic cancer cases.

Since 1988, incidence rates increased by about 2.0% per year for both sexes. More strikingly, incidence rates increased by about 5% among males and by about 3% among females in the last five years. The rate of pancreatic cancer is 40-50% higher among males than females. Most recently, the age-adjusted incidence rate of pancreatic cancer was 14.5 new cases per 100,000 males and 11.3 new cases per 100,000 females.

Pancreatic cancer cases in Minnesota, by age

Rates of new pancreatic cancer cases, aggregated from 2005 to 2014.
Rates of new pancreatic cancer cases, aggregated from 2004 to 2013.

The rate of pancreatic cancer increases with age for both sexes, with the rates between males and females becoming more similar in the older age groups.

What is cancer of the pancreas?

Cancer that begins in the cells of the pancreas is called pancreatic cancer.  The pancreas is an organ near the stomach that produces insulin and other hormones regulating the amount of sugar in the blood as well as enzymes that help break down food (digestion). Pancreatic cancer that begins in the cells that produce enzymes (exocrine cells) is much more common.

What are risk factors for pancreatic cancer?

  • Smoking is the most important risk factor (doubling or tripling the risk) for pancreatic cancer, as is smokeless tobacco use. An estimated 20-30% of pancreatic cancers are caused by cigarette smoking.
  • Obesity and type 2 diabetes increase risk of pancreatic cancer.
  • Diets high in meat, fat, and processed meat increase risk.   The exact role of diet in pancreatic cancer is still being studied.
  • Chronic pancreatitis (long-term inflammation of the pancreas) is a risk factor for developing pancreatic cancer but many people with pancreatitis never develop pancreatic cancer.
  • Occupational exposures: Heavy occupational exposures to certain pesticides, dyes, and metal refinery chemicals may increase the risk of pancreatic cancer.
  • Race: African Americans are about two times more likely to have this cancer than whites.

How can pancreatic cancer be prevented?

Don't smoke. Especially avoid cigarette smoking which greatly increases the risk of pancreatic cancer. Limit alcohol use as it can increase the risk of diabetes and chronic pancreatitis, which are risk factors for pancreatic cancer. Maintain a healthy weight, exercise, and choose a diet rich in fruits and vegetables instead of red meat or processed meat (e.g. sausage, bacon). Avoid long-term, intense doses of known occupational exposures that increase the risk of pancreatic cancer.