Another Reason to Eat Right

Pancreatic cancer risk lower in people whose diets matched US dietary guidelines

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Dietary patterns may predict your risk of developing certain diseases, including cancer. However, the link between a healthy diet and pancreatic cancer risk has been unclear.

A recent study evaluated how well participants’ diets followed dietary guidelines published by the US government in 2005, and then examined their risk of pancreatic cancer.

According to this study, participants whose diets matched US dietary guidelines more closely had a significantly lower risk of developing pancreatic cancer than those whose diets did not match these guidelines.

"Talk to your doctor about healthier dietary choices."

This study was conducted by Hannah Arem, PhD, from the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, and colleagues.

In 2005, the US Government issued dietary guidelines to promote healthy eating and better overall health for Americans.

During the current study, the researchers looked at 537,218 participants aged 50 to 71 years. The participants answered a questionnaire about their eating habits.

Data was collected about their consumption of recommended foods such as whole fruit, green vegetables, whole grain and milk. These were called adequacy food groups since the dietary guidelines recommended that adequate amounts of these foods be eaten.

They were also asked about foods where moderation was recommended under the dietary guidelines, such as saturated fat and alcohol.

The researchers then calculated something called a Healthy Eating Index-2005 (HEI-2005) score. Those who ate healthier foods more frequently and in adequate amounts received higher HEI-2005 scores. Participants who did not eat adequate amounts of recommended foods and instead ate more food groups that were recommended in moderation received lower scores.

There were 2,383 new cases of pancreatic cancer among the study participants.

There was a 15 percent lower risk of developing pancreatic cancer among participants with the highest HEI-2005 scores as compared to those with the lowest scores.

This link between healthier diet and lower risk of pancreatic cancer was stronger among overweight and obese men compared to men who were normal weight, but there was no such difference observed among women.

In their calculations, the researchers accounted for other factors that were known to cause pancreatic cancer, such as smoking and diabetes.

However, the researchers noted that there may be other factors that were not included that may have been responsible for the association between diet and cancer. They recommended future studies to explore this link further and confirm these findings.

"The etiology of pancreatic cancer is still poorly understood, with smoking being the most commonly cited cause. In recent years, there has been conflicting information about different dietary etiologies in play with pancreatic cancer," James Farrell, MD, Director of the Yale Center for Pancreatic Disease and Endoscopic Oncology at Yale University School of Medicine, told dailyRx News.

"This study further supports the concept of an overall healthy diet decreasing the risk of cancer including pancreatic cancer. Specific further studies about the protective role of specific food types and nutrients in the development of pancreatic cancer are warranted," said Dr. Farrell, who was not involved in this study.

In an editorial accompanying the study, Rachel Ballard-Barbash, MD, from the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, and colleagues discussed the study’s findings.

"Practical and actionable dietary recommendations that are based on sound research should ultimately reduce patient suffering and treatment-related expenditures from preventable cancers," the editorial authors concluded.

The results of this study were published August 15 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

The study received funding from a Yale–NCI predoctoral training grant and from the Intramural Research Program of the National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute. No conflicts of interest were disclosed.

Review Date: 
August 15, 2013
Last Updated:
August 22, 2013