Dietary Antioxidants May Lower Pancreatic Cancer Risk

Eating mushrooms, oranges, brazil nuts and other foods packed with vitamins C, E, and/or selenium may reduce the risk of pancreatic cancer, one of the most deadly types of cancer, according to a new study published today in the journal Gut.

Pancreatic cancer has been in the news lately with the death of Sally Ride, the first US woman astronaut. Ride is one of the estimated 37,000 Americans who will die of pancreatic cancer this year.  According to the National Cancer Institute, pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer-related death. It is often not diagnosed until the advanced stages, when treatment is challenging.

In the study, researchers drew upon data of almost 24,000 participants who were part of the European Prospective Investigation of Cancer (EPIC) study. Participants filled out a seven-day food diary when they entered the study in the mid-1990s. They also gave a blood sample that was analyzed for vitamin C levels.

Current research is limited and conflicting on whether diet affects pancreatic cancer risk. Study researchers here looked specifically at some of the more well studied dietary antioxidants: vitamins C, E, selenium and zinc. They determined how much of each antioxidant the participants ate then divided the participants into four groups, from the lowest to highest.

After tracking the participants for 10 years, those who ate the highest amounts of vitamins C, E, and selenium intake were about two-thirds less likely to develop pancreatic cancer than those who consumed the least. The risk reduction was seen among a combination of the three highest-consuming groups, suggesting that eating only a little more than the lowest amount is protective. Those who ate the highest amounts of selenium halved their pancreatic cancer risk. Again, this was seen in a combination of the three highest groups of selenium-consumers, compared to those who ate the least.

Food diaries for vitamin C only hinted at a link to reduced risk but the link became statistically significant when looking at vitamin C blood levels.

The authors adjusted for several recognized risk factors, such as age and smoking. Smoking tobacco is the most important risk factor for pancreatic cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute. Having type 2 diabetes is also a recognized risk factor. AICR’s expert report and its continuous updates found that excess body fat and abdominal fat also increases the risk.

For more information on reducing the risk of pancreatic cancer, see how diet affects the risk on our site. The NCI looks at these and other established risk factors.


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