Eating Plenty of Produce Could Halve Pancreatic Cancer Risk


THE SMARTEST THING you can do about pancreatic cancer is eat a lot of what you find in the produce section of your grocery store. That's the suggestion from a new epidemiological study of links between diet and the relatively rare but deadly disease: Researchers at the University of California-San Francisco found that eating lots of vegetables, especially yellow and dark green produce, may reduce the risk of pancreatic cancer by as much as half.

In the National Cancer Institute-funded study, published in the journal Cancer, Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, scientists catalogued one year's diet of 2,333 adults, including 533 pancreatic cancer patients. Those who ate more than five servings daily of fruits and vegetables had only half the risk of subjects who ate the least produce, less than two daily servings. In turn, subjects who ate even more produce-nine servings per day-reduced their risk by more than half compared to those eating less than five servings per day. A serving is considered to be about a half-cup of cooked vegetables, two cups of leafy salad or one medium-sized piece of fruit.

The vegetables most strongly associated with increased protection were onions, garlic, beans, yellow vegetables (such as carrots, yams, sweet potatoes, corn and yellow squash), dark leafy vegetables (such as spinach and kale) and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli. Light-green vegetables, tomatoes and tomato products showed weaker protective benefits. Fruits were found to he protective but significantly less so than vegetables, with citrus fruits and citrus juices most protective.

Although pancreatic cancer is rare, with about 32,180 cases expected to be diagnosed in the US in 2005, by the time it's diagnosed the treatment options are typically few. Once diagnosed, survival is often measured in months.

That makes prevention all the more important, according to Elizabeth Holly, PhD, MPH, head of the university's cancer epidemiology unit and lead author of the study: "Finding strong confirmation that life choices can provide significant protection from pancreatic cancer may be one of the most practical ways currently to reduce the incidence of this dreadful disease until we understand more about the genetics involved?

This was an observational study, depending on interviews and questionnaires. Nonetheless, the results are considered particularly meaningful because of the study's size and the statistical significance of the results, according to the research team. They noted that the likelihood chance alone accounts for the findings is less than one in a thousand for many vegetable categories.

But the findings don't necessarily mean all fruits and vegetables-or even any specific ones-are potentially helpful or harmful, the study authors point out. For example, they found evidence that the way foods are prepared may play a role: Raw vegetables appear to he somewhat more protective than cooked vegetables, and fried potatoes appear to be more harmful than those prepared other ways. In addition, a specific food could he a "proxy" for another food often eaten with it, such as meat eaten with fried potatoes, as a hypothetical example.

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