Pancreatic cancer is among the deadliest cancers -- the fourth leading cause of cancer death in America.
struggles of high-profile celebrities diagnosed with this disease --
Patrick Swayze and Steve Jobs among them -- have made everyone aware of
the uphill battle that these patients face.
wisdom is that there's not much anyone can do because pancreatic cancer
has few early warning signs and doctors can't do much to detect the
But a new study is offering some hope: There may
be a way to cut your risk of ever getting pancreatic cancer by 15
percent. It starts on your dinner plate.
In a study released
Thursday in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, researchers at
the National Institutes of Health showed that people who simply adhere
to a healthy diet -- specifically, the federal government's dietary
guidelines for Americans -- cut their risk of pancreatic cancer by 15
The study looked at more than half a million people aged
50 to 71 and surveyed them to find out their dietary habits. Over the
course of about a decade, the people who ate a diet with a high healthy
eating index (HEI, a standard measure for how closely a person's diet
resembles the government's guidelines) were less likely to be diagnosed
with pancreatic cancer.
The lower risk was even more pronounced
when the person was obese -- a finding that may give an additional
incentive for those with weight issues to eat healthy.
Arem, one of the researchers behind the new study, said the team got
interested in a link between diet and pancreatic cancer diagnosis
because poor nutrition is a known risk factor for other cancers. She
noted that finding about those who are obese -- a group that includes
more than a third of American adults.
"Obesity is a known risk
factor for pancreatic cancer," Arem said. "Overweight or obese men who
reported a diet more in line with the dietary guidelines had a lower
risk of pancreatic cancer compared to their normal weight counterparts."
Why? Arem said further research is needed.
study did not identify a particular unhealthy food or pattern that
might cause pancreatic cancer, or suggest that one particular healthy
food protects against it. Instead, it took a broad approach and
suggested that an overall healthy diet -- one that consists of dark
green and orange vegetables, legumes, whole grains, healthy oils and
milk products -- has an effect on the risk.
Dr. Bernard Levin, a cancer prevention expert not involved with the study, said its findings were important.
cancer is a very lethal disease, and any studies to prevent it are
important," said Levin, professor emeritus at MD Anderson Cancer Center
in Houston. "Diabetes, tobacco and obesity are known risk factors, [but]
the issue of diet is more complicated."
message of this study and others like it is that, in the battle to
fight cancer, sometimes the best ally isn't medicine, it's prevention.
While it is true that doctors are gaining greater understanding of how
to treat this and other deadly cancers, avoiding some of the habits and
lifestyles that can cause cancer is something anyone can do. And you can
It's hard to say whether it's the healthy diet
that has a direct effect on pancreatic cancer risk, or if it's linked to
a healthier weight, lower diabetes risk and avoidance of tobacco.
Either way, it is clear that minding what goes on your plate has implications that reach far beyond your waistline.