Pancreatic cancer: this little-known factor that increases the risk

The incidence of pancreatic cancer is increasing. Especially in young adults under 55 years. A recent study suggests that the nature of dietary fat plays a role in the occurrence of this devastating cancer.

The results of a major American study indicate that the incidence of pancreatic cancer is on the rise constant over the past 20 years. With an annual increase of 0.9% for men and 0.8% for women between 957 and 2018. Further analysis, however, reveals the presence of an even more disturbing trend among young adults, under the age of 30 year. In this population, the annual increase in the incidence of pancreatic cancer is 4.2% in men and 7.7% in women. As with other types of cancer (colorectal cancer, for example), it therefore seems that a new trend is emerging in recent years. Pancreatic cancer develops abnormally early in young people, especially in young women.

Overweight, diabetes: conditions favorable to the onset of cancer

Such an abrupt change in the incidence of a disease cannot be of hereditary origin. It is therefore necessarily linked to the way of life. Among the established risk factors for pancreatic cancer: smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, obesity and diabetes, the change most likely to contribute to the rise of early pancreatic cancer is certainly overweight and diabetes. Childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 35. The latest US statistics show that this rise has been accompanied by a 93% increase in the incidence of type 2 diabetes in children and adolescents since the turn of the millennium. the presence of overweight and diabetes at a young age therefore creates conditions favorable to the early development of cancer, possibly including that of the pancreas.

Overweight caused by junk food and bad fat

Overweight is most of the time caused by overconsumption of calories from sugary and fatty foods. Like those included in the ultra-processed products that have literally invaded our environment in recent years. Regular consumption of these products often comes at the expense of healthier products, such as fruits, vegetables and other plants. This creates deficiencies in the supply of several nutrients essential for good health, including complex (unrefined) carbohydrates and unsaturated fats.

The nature of the fat we eat promotes or decreases the risk of pancreatic cancer

A recent study suggests that the nature of the fat in the diet could greatly influence the risk of developing pancreatic cancer. In this retrospective study, researchers compared the eating habits of 957 patients with pancreatic cancer (cases) with those of 938 patients also hospitalized, but who were not affected by cancer (controls). Looking specifically at fat intake, the researchers noted significant differences between cases and controls. Not in terms of the amount of fat consumed (the median intake being similar between the two groups), but rather in terms of the types of fat that made up their diet.

For example, they observed that patients who consumed the highest amounts of saturated fat of animal origin had a twice the risk of cancer. Conversely, the consumption of fat of vegetable origin had a protective effect, with a halving of the risk of cancer.

These differences are also observed for the fat classes found in these two types of food, saturated fat of animal origin and unsaturated fat of plant origin. Thus, a high intake of animal fat is associated with an approximately 29% increase in cancer risk , while a high intake of unsaturated fats (monounsaturated, polyunsaturated) of plant origin was associated with a decrease in 35% of the risk.

The right fats (olive, flax, walnuts) to reduce the risk of pancreatic cancer

These observations are in agreement with several experimental data (models of pancreatic cancer induced by carcinogens or by xenografts) showing that animal fats promote the progression of this cancer. Whereas unsaturated fats slowed her down. Favoring sources of good unsaturated fats, such as vegetable oils (olive in particular), seeds (flax, chia) or nuts, could therefore represent a simple way to reduce the risk of developing pancreatic cancer.


Incidence of Pancreatic Cancer by Age and Sex in the US, 2000 – 2018. JAMA, OCTOBER 2021.

Trends in Prevalence of Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes in Children and Adolescents in the US, 2001 – 2017 JAMA 2021

Dietary intake of fatty acids and risk of pancreatic cancer: Golestan cohort study J. NUTR., OCTOBRE 2021.

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