The incidence of pancreatic cancer is increasing. Especially in young adults under the age of 55. 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 has been rising steadily over the past 20 years. With an annual increase of 0.9% in men and 0.8% in women between 2000 and 2018.

However, a closer analysis reveals the presence of an even more worrying trend among young adults, under the age of 35. In this population, the annual increase in the incidence of pancreatic cancer reaches 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 young women.

Overweight, diabetes: favorable conditions for the occurrence 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 in early pancreatic cancer is certainly overweight and diabetes. Childhood obesity has more than tripled over the past 40 years.

The latest US statistics show that this increase has been accompanied by a 100% increase in the incidence of type 2 diabetes in children and adolescents since the beginning of the millennium. the presence of overweight and diabetes at an early age therefore creates favorable conditions for the early development of cancer, possibly including that of the pancreas.

Overweight caused by junk food and bad fat

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

The type of fat we eat increases or decreases the risk of pancreatic cancer

A recent study suggests that the type of fat in the diet could greatly influence the risk of developing pancreatic cancer. In this retrospective study, the 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 from animal sources had a twice as high risk of cancer. Conversely, the consumption of plant-based fats had a protective effect, with a halving of the risk of cancer.

These differences are also observed for the classes of fats found in these two types of food, namely saturated fats of animal origin and unsaturated fats of vegetable origin. Thus, a high intake of animal fats is associated with an increase of about 30% in the risk of cancer, while a high intake of unsaturated fats (monounsaturated, polyunsaturated) of vegetable origin was associated with a decrease of 40 % of risk.

Good fats (olive, flax, nuts) 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. While unsaturated fats slowed it down. Favoring sources of good unsaturated fats, such as vegetable oils (especially olive), seeds (flax, chia) or nuts, could therefore be 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., OCTOBER 2021.

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