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Study Finds French-Canadians More At-Risk for Pancreatitis

A new study finds that people of French-Canadian descent are more likely to have a genetic disease called Familial Chylomicronemia Syndrome, or FCS. This disease puts them at greater risk for acute pancreatitis – a painful, sometimes fatal condition. Researchers say the study shows the need for more and better screening – and effective treatment.

FCS is a disease where the body can’t break down fats correctly. The chances in the general population of having FCS is roughly 1 in 1,000,000. However; if you’re of French-Canadian descent, the chance is higher– around 20 or 40 in 1,000,000.

Dr. Daniel Gaudet, a professor of medicine at the University of Montreal says that those odds are still relatively rare. However; FCS comes with serious complications, “Because in this disease, the risk of pancreatitis is increased by 350-fold.”

Pancreatitis is severely painful and potentially fatal. Pancreatitis is usually caused by conditions like diabetes, thyroid disease, or alcholism. To treat the pancreatitis, you treat those underlying conditions. But that’s not the case for those with FCS, says Gaudet, who did a study on the link between the genetic disorder and pancreatitis.

“They are orphans, in terms of treatment,” says Gaudet.

It’s of particular concern for those of French-Canadian descent, who also have a higher incidence of another genetic disorder – called Familial Hypercholesterolemia – that causes high cholesterol levels.

Dr. Dervilla McCann, chief of population health at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, says these genetic diseases tend to bubble up with higher frequency in communities that have historically been isolated, like Franco Americans, which “…created a gene pool that was unique to them. And that founder effect and that gene pool that results from it, will allow for certain genes to become expressed more frequently in certain populations.”

McCann says in the Lewiston-Auburn area, she sees many patients with high triglyceride levels in their blood, and that the study raises questions about whether the underlying cause in some patients may be FCS. Dr. Gaudet says more understanding about the diseases, as well as effective treatment, are needed.