Pancreatic cancer, or pancreatic adenocarcinoma—which accounts for 95% of all pancreatic cancers—while relatively rare, is a dreaded and devastating disease. Worldwide, it is the fourth most common cause of cancer-related death. It carries a very poor prognosis. On average, only 6% of those diagnosed with pancreatic adenocarcinoma will survive 5 years following diagnosis. While there are many lifestyle factors that increase your risk of getting the disease (including alcohol consumption and smoking), not all sufferers have those risk factors.
But here is some good news: A recent study* whose results were published in the July issue of the journal Gut suggests that a diet high in antioxidant-rich foods protects against the disease. A team from the University of East Anglia and the University of Cambridge in England evaluated data from 23,658 participants in the European Prospective Investigation of Cancer (EPIC)-Norfolk study of men and women living in Norfolk, England. The participants kept 7-day food diaries which provided data about the patients’ intake of the powerful antioxidants vitamins C and E, selenium and zinc. Blood samples, provided by 95% of the participants, were also evaluated for serum vitamin C levels.
The results? After a decade, 49 participants developed pancreatic cancer. When all the data was analyzed, the researchers found that in participants whose combined intake of vitamins C and E, and selenium were among the top 75 percent of participants, there was a 67 percent lower risk of developing pancreatic cancer compared to subjects whose intake was among the lowest 25 percent. When they analyzed the nutrients separately, the researchers found the strongest protective effect was from selenium.
The researchers note that antioxidants scavenge free radicals, and that free radicals are increased by smoking and diabetes, which are risk factors for pancreatic cancer. These nutrients may also help reduce chronic inflammation, which also plays a role in the development of the disease.
The researchers also point out that this study does not conclude a “causal” relationship between a high-antioxidant diet and reduced risk of pancreatic cancer, but if further studies can establish such a relationship, then population-based dietary recommendations may help prevent pancreatic cancer.