Health

Alarm over 200% explosion in young women and girls getting pancreatic cancer as top experts admit they are baffled by 'frightening' rise of deadly disease


A ‘frightening’ explosion of young women developing one of the deadliest cancers has baffled experts. 

Rates of pancreatic cancer have soared by up to 200 per cent in women under the age of 25 since the 1990s.

Overall, incidences of the disease — which has a five-year survival rate of just 5 per cent — have increased by around 17 per cent over the same time-span, with soaring obesity rates suspected to be behind the trend.

Yet oncologists cannot explain the particular surge in young women, with no such spike noted in men of the same age.

Professor Karol Sikora, a world-renowned oncologist with over 40 years’ experience, told MailOnline there are theories it has to do with the modern diet.

But so far, he added, researchers have ‘no idea’ of the cause behind the ‘frightening’ trend, especially in younger woman.

‘It is probably something to do with dietary change over the last 20 years,’ he said.

‘Fortunately pancreatic cancer is rare in the young but it is a bit worrying. It shows that we just don’t have all the answers.’

He added that Britain wasn’t alone in this trend, with studies from the US indicating similar increases in the disease across the Atlantic and further research was needed to uncover the cause.   

Nicola Smith, senior health information manager at Cancer Research UK, also said more research was needed to unpick why pancreatic cancer rates in the UK were increasing. 

‘Pancreatic cancer cases in the UK are on the rise, and we have seen a small increase in the number of young women being diagnosed,’ she said.

‘More research is still needed to fully understand why this is happening.’

Dubbed the ‘silent killer’ due to its subtle symptoms which mean it is frequently only spotted in its final stages, pancreatic cancer kills about 10,000 Brits every year. 

This is equivalent to one death every hour in the UK. 

A number of celebrity diagnoses within the past 12 months have thrown the disease into the spotlight. 

Former England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson, 75, revealed earlier this year that he is dying from pancreatic cancer.

Meanwhile, last May it was revealed that The Smiths bassist Andy Rourke had died from the illness. 

Becki Buggs was 43 when she received a devastating pancreatic diagnosis with nurse motivated to get tests after her husband commented she looked like 'a Minion', which was later revealed to be jaundice. Here Becki is pictured with her two children Jacob and Georgie who were 9 and eight-years-old at the time respectively

Becki Buggs was 43 when she received a devastating pancreatic diagnosis with nurse motivated to get tests after her husband commented she looked like ‘a Minion’, which was later revealed to be jaundice. Here Becki is pictured with her two children Jacob and Georgie who were 9 and eight-years-old at the time respectively 

Now 45, Becki knows she is one of the lucky few whose pancreatic cancer was caught early enough to be operable. She is also part of a rising trend of younger women getting diagnosed with the disease, a pattern that experts are baffled by

Now 45, Becki knows she is one of the lucky few whose pancreatic cancer was caught early enough to be operable. She is also part of a rising trend of younger women getting diagnosed with the disease, a pattern that experts are baffled by 

Other famous victims include legendary actors Patrick Swayze and Alan Rickman as well as Apple’s iconic founder Steve Jobs.

Brits in their 80s are most likely to be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, with the risk of getting the disease, much like other cancers, broadly increasing with age.

Other known risk factors for the disease include smoking and obesity.

Figures from Cancer Research UK (CRUK) shows pancreatic cancer incidence rates have risen 17 per cent since the early 90s.

It now means that about 17 people out of every 100,000 will get the disease in one calendar year. 

This is up from 14 people per year some 30 years ago.

Pancreatic cancer incidence rates in young women, those who are children and up to the age of 24, have exploded by 208 per cent over the same period, MailOnline analysis revealed. 

Rates of the disease in women aged 25 to 49 also increased by 34 per cent, nearly double the rate of the general population.

Reassuringly, the base numbers are still low. For example, no more than 1.5 women out of every 100,000 of that age will struck by the disease each year. 

Pancreatic cancer has been dubbed a 'silent killer' due to its subtle signs that are often only spotted too late

Pancreatic cancer has been dubbed a ‘silent killer’ due to its subtle signs that are often only spotted too late

Pancreatic cancer remains one of the least survivable forms of the disease and worryingly its on the rise. Source for data: Cancer Research UK

Pancreatic cancer remains one of the least survivable forms of the disease and worryingly its on the rise. Source for data: Cancer Research UK 

‘Honey you look like a Minion’ – how I was diagnosed with a cancer on the rise in younger women

The first sign Becki Buggs had pancreatic cancer was an odd comment from her husband as she got out of the shower.

‘Becki, you look like a Minion,’ she recalls him saying.

The experienced nurse looked in the mirror and knew immediately she jaundice.

Jaundice, which turns the skin and eyes a yellow tinge, is an indicator that something is seriously wrong in the internal processes of the body and a key sign of pancreatic cancer. 

The then 43-year-old mother of two had been feeling unwell, on Christmas Day 2021, three days before her husband’s comment, but initially thought this was probably a Covid infection.

Rushing herself to hospital for tests, she recalled how as the results came in, she strongly suspected it wasn’t going to positive news. 

‘Everything was adding up to the fact that it was not going to be a good diagnosis. It didn’t make it any easier,’ she recalled. 

Just three days later she was given the devastating news that her fears were founded, she had pancreatic cancer.   

Becki is one of the small but growing number of women diagnosed with the disease. 

Data show cases in her demographic, women aged 25 to 49 have increased by 34 per cent, compared to the 90s nearly double the rate of the general population.

For younger women, those 25-and-under, have exploded by 208 per cent over the same period. 

But Becki is one of the lucky ones, her cancer was caught in the early stages meaning she was eligible for surgery.

She had a pancreaticoduodenectomy, also known as a Whipple procedure, a gruelling procedure that sees cancerous tissue cut away and surgeons then rearranging the patient’s digestive system. 

Becki had ironically prepared pancreatic patients for this procedure multiple times and described her own experience as the ‘hardest’ ordeal of her life. 

‘They were the hardest 11 days of my life. I was away from my children, Jacob and Georgie and they couldn’t come and visit me because of Covid,’ she said.

‘It is a horrible operation. There’s no two ways about it. It’s totally re-plumbing your whole digestive system, so it is gruelling but for me, it wasn’t that bad because I knew what to expect.’

Becki, like cancer experts, urged people experiencing any of the potential, and subtle signs of pancreatic cancer to seek advice from their GP.

‘I’m worried for other pancreatic cancer patients,’ she said.

‘It scares me that there are people out there that will think, oh, I just feel a bit off but it’s fine, I won’t get a GP appointment, I’ll just ride it out. 

‘Then they become so ill and jaundiced that they get admitted to A&E and by then it’s too late. 

‘If you are concerned about a symptom, get in touch with your GP.’

There was no equivalent spike in pancreatic cancer rates in very young men (0-24), and only a 17 per cent rise, in line with overall figure for the population, in men aged 25-49.

Whereas experts have been able to pinpoint historic tobacco use on a rise in lung cancer, no ‘smoking gun’ explains the rise in pancreatic cancer. 

Data suggest a quarter of British adults are now obese, compared to just a sixth a decade ago. Rates were even lower in the 90s. 

Ms Smith encouraged anyone suffering potential pancreatic cancer symptoms to contact their GP. 

‘You know your body best, so it’s important to get your doctor’s advice if you notice anything that’s not normal for you or isn’t going away,’ she said.

‘It probably won’t be cancer. But if it is, spotting it at an early stage means that treatment is more likely to be successful.’

Anna Jewell, director of support, research and influencing at the charity Pancreatic Cancer UK, added that while older people are more likely to get pancreatic cancer, younger groups are still at risk.

‘To increase survival rates from pancreatic cancer we need to ensure everyone, at all ages, has fast access to diagnosis and treatment,’ she said.

She said studies suggest the disease is more common among black people and women, but again, further research was needed to unpick why.

Ms Jewell added the pancreatic cancer moniker of ‘the silent killer’ was unhelpful and said that much could be done to improve both detection and survivability of the disease if it got the attention it deserved. 

For decades, pancreatic cancer has been left behind, receiving just 3 per cent of the UK cancer research budget and has too often been absent from national cancer strategies and plans,’ she said.

‘That’s why pancreatic cancer survival has barely changed for decades, and it remains the deadliest common cancer. 

‘We know that the right level of sustained funding can change everything. Survival rates for leukaemia have quadrupled thanks to significant and consistent investment into research.’

Pancreatic Cancer UK estimate that £35million per year needs to be invested in pancreatic cancer research to reverse this trend and bring about breakthroughs in early diagnosis and new treatments. 

The pancreas is a tadpole-shaped organ that forms part of the digestive system and also performs a crucial role in hormone regulation. 

It is located just behind the stomach and is about 25cm in length.

In its digestive role, it helps produce enzymes that help the body break down food into the nutrients it needs. 

It is also critical in making hormones responsible for controlling blood sugar levels in the body.

These roles are part of what makes some scientists think changes in the modern diet are a potential reason why rates of pancreatic cancer are on the up.

Potential symptoms of pancreatic cancer include jaundice, where the whites of the eyes and skin turn yellow, alongside itchy skin and darker urine.

Other possible signs include loss of appetite, unintended weight loss, constipation or bloating.

While symptoms are unlikely to be cancer it is important that they are checked out by a GP early just in case, especially if people have had them for over four weeks.

Anti-vaxx theories that Covid jabs are behind a rise in cancer incidences have not been proven.

As experts like Professor Sikora highlight, data showing rises like the one observed for pancreatic cancer only go up to 2018, years before the vaccines were invented.

Sven Goran Eriksson (pictured this week) has told Swedish radio he has cancer and may only have a year to live

Sven Goran Eriksson (pictured this week) has told Swedish radio he has cancer and may only have a year to live

The Countryfile star, 57, has told how his wedding vows allowed him to 'cement' his emotions after Charlie (pictured in November 2019) was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer

The Countryfile star, 57, has told how his wedding vows allowed him to ‘cement’ his emotions after Charlie (pictured in November 2019) was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer

Smiths guitarist Andy Rourke has died at the age of 59 from pancreatic cancer

Smiths guitarist Andy Rourke has died at the age of 59 from pancreatic cancer 

Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey in the 1987 romantic hit Dirty Dancing. Swayze died in 2009 at the age of 57 from pancreatic cancer

Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey in the 1987 romantic hit Dirty Dancing. Swayze died in 2009 at the age of 57 from pancreatic cancer 

Alan Rickman who starred in a host of blockbusters including as Professor Snape in the Harry Potter films died from pancreatic cancer in 2016 at the age of 69

Alan Rickman who starred in a host of blockbusters including as Professor Snape in the Harry Potter films died from pancreatic cancer in 2016 at the age of 69

Apple founder Steve Jobs died of complications relating to pancreatic cancer in 2011 at the age of 56. Here he is pictured in 2009

Apple founder Steve Jobs died of complications relating to pancreatic cancer in 2011 at the age of 56. Here he is pictured in 2009



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