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Pancreatic Cancer Deaths Higher for Blacks

Accounting for risk factors made no difference in disparity, researchers find

WEDNESDAY, Sept. 2 (HealthDay News) -- Blacks have a significantly higher risk of dying from pancreatic cancer than whites, a new U.S. study has found.

Even after eliminating known pancreatic cancer risk factors, such as smoking and obesity, blacks still had a 42 percent higher risk of dying from the disease than their white counterparts, according to the Washington University-led study, which appears online in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

"We hoped to find that by accounting for known and suspected pancreatic cancer risk factors, such as smoking, diabetes and BMI (body-mass index), and by looking at this in the context of race and gender, we'd be able to explain the higher rates of pancreatic cancer in blacks," Lauren D. Arnold, a postdoctoral research associate at Washington University in St. Louis, said in a news release from the journal. "Unfortunately, we were unable to explain these differences. We still have a long way to go towards understanding pancreatic cancer disparities."

Pancreatic cancer is one of the hardest cancers to treat successfully because the disease spreads quickly and usually presents no early symptoms. More than 42,000 Americans will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer this year, and more than 35,000 will die, according to the American Cancer Society.

Researchers based their recent findings on data from the Cancer Prevention Study II (CPS-II), a longitudinal study that began in 1982 with more than 1 million participants. It collected information on race/ethnicity, medical history and health habits.

Maria Elena Martinez, the Richard H. Hollen professor of cancer prevention at the University of Arizona, said scientists now need to find out why race plays such a large role in pancreatic cancer.

"Factors other than those assessed by the researchers may be responsible for the disparities," she said. "These can include unidentified lifestyle and/or environmental factors, genetic factors or unique gene-environment interactions."

More information

The American Cancer Society offers resources on pancreatic cancer.

-- Peter West

SOURCE: Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, news release, Sept. 2, 2009

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