Friday, June 10, 2011

Can pancreatic cancer be prevented?

"The person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person doing it."
Chinese Proverb

Pancreatic cancer is one of the more stubborn cancers to diagnose and treat. Early detection is rare, thus treatment is limited. Unfortunately, there are no medically backed methods of preventing pancreatic cancer. For now, the best approach is to avoid pancreatic cancer risk factors whenever possible.

While there are risk factors, which cannot be controlled, like genetic predisposition and heredity, there are also risk factors for pancreatic cancer, which you have a certain influence on, like lifestyle and triggering medical conditions.

Lifestyle and Diet

Cigarette smoking is the most important avoidable risk factor for pancreatic cancer. It is responsible for 20% to 30% of pancreatic cancers. Tobacco use also increases the risk of many other cancers such as cancers of the lung, mouth, larynx (voice box), esophagus, kidney, bladder, and some other organs. If you smoke and want help quitting, please talk to your doctor or call the American Cancer Society.

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Maintaining a healthy weight, eating well, and exercising are also important. The American Cancer Society recommends choosing foods and beverages in amounts that help achieve and maintain a healthy weight.  If you currently have a healthy weight, work to maintain it. If you need to lose weight, aim for a slow, steady weight loss — 1 or 2 pounds (0.5 or 1 kilogram) a week. Combine daily exercise with a diet rich in vegetables, fruit and whole grains with smaller portions to help you lose weight.

It is highly recommended to eat at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day, as well as servings of whole grain foods from plant sources such as rice, breads, pasta, and cereals. Eat less processed and red meat.

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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 be protective but significantly less so than vegetables, with citrus fruits and citrus juices most protective.

 Aim for 30 minutes of exercise on most days. If you're not used to exercising, start out slowly and work up to your goal.

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Following these recommendations may lower your risk of getting pancreatic cancer, as well as several other cancers and some non-cancerous diseases.

Medical Conditions

Pancreatitis. This condition, in which the pancreas becomes inflamed, can raise your risk of pancreatic cancer sharply. There are two types of pancreatitis: acute and chronic. Acute pancreatitis usually goes away in a few days. It is often caused by gallstones or alcohol abuse, according to the American Gastroenterological Association. Other causes include infections and medications.

Acute pancreatitis can turn chronic, or long-lasting, often because of heavy alcohol use. However, chronic pancreatitis can also be inherited.

People with chronic pancreatitis have a higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer, especially if they inherit the condition. These people have a 40 percent chance of developing pancreatic cancer by the age of 70.

Diabetes. Having type 2 diabetes (which is associated with obesity and a sedentary lifestyle) may double your risk of pancreatic cancer. However, type 1 diabetes, the type in which the body destroys insulin-making cells in the pancreas, is not linked to this cancer risk.

Even if you're at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes, you can prevent it or delay it by losing 5 percent to 10 percent of your body weight and getting 30 minutes of physical activity each day, according to the American Diabetes Association.

There are other risk factors, related to the medical conditions, which should be kept under control as much as possible to minimize the pancreatic cancer development later in life.


One's environment also plays a role. Some chemicals that manufacturers use, such as benzidine, asbestos, 2-naphthylamine, and gasoline derivatives, are related to tumor development. Limiting your exposure to these chemicals and pesticides like DDT can help in pancreatic cancer prevention. Most people do not spend much time around these substances, so avoiding them should not be difficult.

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Sources and Additional Information:

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