The Sol Goldman Pancreatic Cancer Research Center

The Johns Hopkins Hospital
1550 Orleans St.,
CRB II, Rm341
Baltimore, MD 21231

phone: 410.955.3512
fax: 410.614.0671

National Familial Pancreas Tumor Registry

Pancreatic Cancer and African Americans

Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer death in the United States and the fifth leading cause of cancer death worldwide. Cancer of the pancreas accounts for only about 3% of the cancers diagnosed each year. However, the five-year survival rate is approximately 9%, making pancreatic cancer a leading cause of cancer death. The incidence of pancreatic cancer is 23-52% higher in African Americans than in any other racial group in the United States. Not only is pancreatic cancer more common among African Americans, but African Americans are more often diagnosed with advanced, and therefore, inoperable cancer. African Americans also are less likely to undergo evaluation by a surgeon, and less likely to receive surgery than any other racial group in the United States.

If you or your family member has pancreatic cancer and would be interested in being evaluated at our multi-disciplinary pancreatic cancer clinic, please click here.

Many studies have been conducted to determine why there is an increased risk of pancreatic cancer among African Americans. These studies suggest that environmental and socioeconomic factors may be important. Cigarette smoking, which causes about 25% of pancreatic cancer, is more common among African Americans and therefore may partially explain why pancreatic cancer is more common in African Americans. Other risk factors for pancreatic cancer that are more common in African Americans include diabetes mellitus, pancreatitis, and being overweight. The research team at the NFPTR is interested in determining why African Americans are at higher risk of pancreatic cancer. You can help by participating in our research studies.

Additional Risk Factors

Cigarette smoking is the most preventable cause of pancreatic cancer. Cigarette smoking accounts for 25-30% of pancreatic cancers. Smoking cigarettes doubles the risk of pancreatic cancer, regardless of race. Smoking rates among African American adults historically have been higher than among the general U.S. population. However, in recent years smoking rates for blacks and whites are similar. Cigarette smoking is the most preventable cause of pancreatic cancer.

Diet: The risk of pancreatic cancer is elevated in diets high in fat and calories. Processed meat high in nitrates, such as bacon and bologna, also increase the risk. The human body may process nitrates into cancer causing chemicals, called carcinogens.

Body Mass Index: The risk of pancreatic cancer increases with body mass, regardless of racial group. However, it has been observed that obesity is more common among African Americans as compared to other racial groups. This may help to explain the increased incidence of pancreatic cancer among African Americans.

Diabetes Mellitus: Blacks are nearly twice as likely as whites to have diabetes mellitus (sugar diabetes). There are two types of diabetes, Type I and Type II. Type I diabetes has not been linked to pancreatic cancer. However, Type II diabetes, which tends to occur in adults, has been shown to double the risk of pancreatic cancer. Type II diabetes is associated with obesity and lack of exercise. Diabetes can sometimes be caused by pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatitis: Pancreatitis is an inflammatory disease of the pancreas. Pancreatitis may either be acute (sudden and severe) or chronic (long-standing). Individuals that have had repeated attacks of acute pancreatitis can develop chronic pancreatitis. The risk of pancreatic cancer is elevated in all patients with pancreatitis and African Americans are at the highest risk of developing pancreatitis of any racial group.

Genetic susceptibility: The risk of pancreatic cancer due to inherited genetics in African Americans has not been well studied. However, we are developing studies to address this important unmet need. However, the currently National Comprehensive Cancer Center Guidelines recomment genetic consultation for all pancreatic cancer patients, regardless of race/enthnicity. For more information on the genetic basis of pancreatic cancer, click here.