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Healthy eaters less likely to get pancreatic cancer

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Pancreatic cancer is rare, but deadly. About 1.5% of Americans will develop the disease during their lifetimes, but only about six percent survive longer than five years after diagnosis. How can you prevent pancreatic cancer? Start with a healthy diet.

Hannah Arem of the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, MD and colleagues studied data from more than 500,000 men and women over the age of 50 who were part of the American Association for Retired Persons diet and Health Study. Their diet quality was rated using the Health Eating Index, a government designed rating published in 2005.

The participants’ diets were scored on the index from 0 (meeting none of the nutritional guidelines for a healthy diet such as consuming whole grains, fruits and vegetables) to 100 (all guidelines met, thus consuming the healthiest diets).

Those with higher ranked “healthy” diets were 15% less likely to develop pancreatic cancer over the course of the 10 year study. Even those who were overweight or obese had greater protection when they consumed a healthy diet over those who did not. The most protective foods appeared to be dark-green and orange vegetables, legumes, whole grains and low-fat milk.

"It is important to note that our findings are based on overall diet and not individual foods. A combination of many foods contributed to the observed association between greater compliance with the Dietary Guidelines and lower risk of pancreatic cancer," said Ms. Arem.

Other risk factors for developing pancreatic cancer include:

Smoking – the cause of about 25% of all pancreatic cancer cases. Smokers are 2 times more likely to develop pancreatic cancer than those who do not smoke.
Age – the risk of developing pancreatic cancer increases with age. Most people diagnosed are over the age of 60.
• Family History – If an immediate family member (mother, father, sibling or child) has pancreatic cancer, your risk increases by 2 to 3 times. Approximately 10% of cases are related to family history.
Chronic Pancreatitis/Hereditary Pancreatitis – Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas.
Race – African Americans have a higher incidence of pancreatic cancer. Ashkenazi Jews also have a higher risk, possibly due to a genetic mutation.
Gender – Slightly more men are diagnosed than women.
Diabetes – Pancreatic cancer is 2 times more likely in diabetic patients.
Obesity – People considered clinically obese have an increased risk.
Physical Inactivity – Lack of physical activity or exercise has been associated with an increased risk of pancreatic cancer, independent of the effects of obesity.

Journal References:
H. Arem et al. The Healthy Eating Index 2005 and Risk of Pancreatic Cancer in the NIH–AARP Study. JNCI J Natl Cancer Inst (2013)doi: 10.1093/jnci/djt185First published online: August 15, 2013

R. Ballard-Barbash et al. Potential to Link Dietary Patterns in the Food Supply and Populations to Health. JNCI J Natl Cancer Inst (2013)105 (17): 1265-1267.doi: 10.1093/jnci/djt220First published online: August 15, 2013

Additional Resource:
Pancreatic Cancer Action Network

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