Among Benefits, Possible 57% Lower Risk of Pancreatic Cancer

November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. Called the “stealth cancer,” pancreatic cancer accounts for just 2% of new U.S. cancer cases — yet is the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths, in part because it is so difficult to detect. Tucked behind the small intestine, the pancreas is an organ which produces insulin and releases enzymes that help aid digestion. Pancreatic cancer has a mortality rate of 86% making it one of the deadliest cancers — so prevention is key. Obesity and diabetes are known risk factors, but a recent study zeroes in on the role of diet, singling out dark green vegetables as offering particular benefits.

The Mayo Clinic teamed up with the National Institutes of Health to see how dietary patterns impacted pancreatic cancer risk among 1,530 men and women (average age 66) over the course of five years. Overall, lower consumption of fruit and vegetables translated into a higher incidence of pancreatic cancer. Consumption of dark green vegetables had the greatest benefit, a 57% reduced risk. This bolsters previous research, which found consumption of at least two cups of vegetables a day — yams, carrots, onions and dark leafy greens — halved pancreatic cancer risk. What else can you do to minimize risk? Here are a few tips:

  •     Eat more tomatoes, watermelon and guava — all top sources of lycopene, which might help protect the pancreas, according to a University of Montreal study.
  •     Focus on vitamin D, linked to a 43% reduced risk in one study by Northwestern University.
  •     Avoid processed meat and limit red meat, which are linked to a 70% and 53% increased risk respectively.
  •     Quit smoking! Cigarettes don’t just cause lung cancer, smokers are 2 to 3 times more likely to develop pancreatic cancer.

While more research is needed to confirm the dark green veggie link to lower pancreatic cancer risk, there are plenty of other reasons to enjoy spinach, kale, Swiss chard, broccoli and the like. 

Published November 5, 2012