Controversy continues to surround the use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT); however, according to a new study, one type of HRT can lower the risk of pancreatic cancer. The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Southern California (USC), was published online on September 5 in the American Journal of Epidemiology.
The researchers note that female hormones have been theorized to play a protective role in pancreatic cancer risk. However, results from epidemiologic studies that examined hormone-related exposures have been inconsistent. Therefore, they conducted a study in an attempt to clarify this issue. They accessed data from the California Teachers Study, which was established in 1995-1006. It comprised female public school professionals. Through December 31, 2009, of the 118,164 eligible study participants, 323 women were diagnosed with invasive pancreatic. A statistical analysis of the data was conducted to evaluate the association of pancreatic cancer risk with reproductive factors and HRT.
The investigators found that current users of estrogen-only therapy at baseline (1995–1996) had a lower risk of pancreatic cancer than did participants who had never used hormone therapy (risk reduction: 0.5). In addition, use of estrogen-plus-progestin therapy was not associated with the risk of pancreatic cancer. A longer duration of oral contraceptive use (10 or more years of use compared with never use) was associated with an increased risk of cancer (1.72-fold increased risk). Reproductive factors, including age at menarche (onset of menstruation), parity (number of pregnancies), breastfeeding, and age at menopause, were not associated with pancreatic cancer risk. The researchers concluded that increased estrogen exposure through estrogen-only therapy may reduce pancreatic cancer risk in women.
Pancreatic cancer is the fourth most common cause of cancer death in the U.S. According to the American Cancer Society, about 45,000 new cases of pancreatic cancer and about 38,000 deaths are expected in 2013. Pancreatic cancer occurs when a cell in the pancreas is damaged and this malignant (cancer) cell starts to grow out of control.
Risk factors for pancreatic cancer include:
- Age. Most pancreatic cancer occurs in people over the age of 55.
- Smoking. Heavy cigarette smokers are two or three times more likely than nonsmokers to develop pancreatic cancer.
- Obesity and physical inactivity. Pancreatic cancer is more common in people who are very overweight and in people who don't get much physical activity.
- Diabetes. Pancreatic cancer occurs more often in people who have type 2 diabetes than in those who do not.
- Gender. More men than women are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
- Race. African-Americans are more likely than Asians, Hispanics, or whites to be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
- Family history. The risk for developing pancreatic cancer is higher if a person's mother, father, or a sibling had the disease.
- Cirrhosis of the liver. People with cirrhosis have a higher risk of pancreatic cancer.
- Workplace exposures. Exposure to certain occupational pesticides, dyes, and chemicals used in the metal industry may increase the risk of pancreatic cancer.
- Some genetic syndromes. Certain inherited gene mutations, such as in the BRCA2 gene, increase the risk of pancreatic cancer.
- Chronic pancreatitis. Long-term inflammation of the pancreas has been linked with increased risk for pancreatic cancer.
Symptoms of pancreatic cancer may include
- Pain in the upper abdomen (belly) or upper back
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Jaundice (yellow skin and eyes, and dark urine)
- Extreme tiredness (fatigue)
- An enlarged abdomen from a swollen gallbladder
- Pale, greasy stools that float in the toilet
- The symptoms of pancreatic cancer may be very similar to those of other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis.