Carbs and Pancreatic Cancer: Why “Null Findings” Matter

Say you’re a researcher. You’ve spent months collecting and analyzing data, crunching numbers and composing tables, but it’s all been for naught. That hypothesis you set out to test (say, that a link exists between a specific food and a known indicator of cancer risk) didn’t pan out. In your investigation at least, you found no such link.

You have achieved what in scientific circles is called a “null finding.” And, in a very real sense, that’s not nothing.

Null findings don’t make headlines, and often don’t even get published. (The tendency of journal editors to publish results that seem “new” over those that find no association — or that simply accord with previously published results — is a source of publication bias, which over time can distort the general scientific opinion on a given subject.)

But there is an important difference between a null finding capable of closing the book on a given question — that says, essentially “There’s no there there, move along.” — and a null finding that says simply “We need more and better data before we can make a judgment.”

On those rare occasions when the media do pick up on a null finding, there is a tendency to mistake one kind for another. Let’s take a look at a recent null finding and see what it really has to say. Continue reading

Reducing Your Risk of Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths because it is often diagnosed only in its advanced stages.  This week, two new studies on pancreatic cancer suggest there are lifestyle habits that can prevent this disease.

Source: NCI. Unfortunately, incidence (and mortality) have changed little in recent years.

The first study, highlighted in today’s issue of Cancer Research Update, supports findings from AICR’s expert report linking higher body weight and waist circumference to increased risk. The study used pooled data from a major National Cancer Institute group of participants, which included about 4,400 individuals – half with the disease and half without. You can read more about the study in CRU.

The second study linked heavy alcohol use and binge drinking to increased risk of pancreatic cancer in men. Previous research has produced conflicting findings on the alcohol-pancreatic cancer link.

But this study – which you can read here – found that the more men drank, the higher their increased risk. This held true even if the men consumed the alcoholic drinks years or decades prior to diagnosis. The study included about 500 individuals with the cancer and 1,700 controls, and the participants reported their history of alcohol consumption. There was no connection between alcohol consumption and pancreatic cancer risk among women.

AICR’s expert report found that foods containing folate — such as beans, leafy greens, and peanuts — probably protect against pancreatic cancer. Want to add some folate to your day? Spinach will help. Try making AICR’s Turkey, Spinach and Apple Wrap.