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New Report: Thousands of Pancreatic Cancers in the U.S. Can Be Prevented

Pancreas In Situ Xray Image WASHINGTON, DC — Pancreatic cancer is one of the most deadly forms of cancer. Usually diagnosed in advanced stages, it claims the lives of 9 out of 10 patients within five years’ time. Now a report released today from the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) and the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) finds clear and convincing evidence that many cases of pancreatic cancer can be prevented.

“The latest report from the AICR/WCRF Continuous Update Project, one of the largest cancer prevention research projects in the world, shows that being overweight and obese increases the risk of developing pancreatic cancer,” said Continuous Update Project (CUP) Panel Member Elisa Bandera, MD, PhD, of the Cancer Institute of New Jersey.

AICR/WCRF estimates that being lean can prevent 19 percent of pancreatic cancer cases that occur in the United States every year – or roughly 1 out of every 5. That’s equivalent to 23 cases a day, and approximately 8,300 cases every year, that never have to happen, in the U.S. alone.

In comparison, tobacco use, the number one risk factor for pancreatic cancer, is responsible for 1 out of every 4 cases of the disease, according to the American Cancer Society.

“With the recent news that pancreatic cancer rates are on the rise, this report should be seen as a wake-up call,” Bandera said. “It’s still another example of the severe toll the obesity epidemic is taking on our health.”

Amid Rising Rates, Pancreatic Cancer Experts Applaud Report

Download the AICR Fact Sheet

Preventing Pancreatic Cancer
at www.aicr.org/pancreas

“We applaud AICR and WCRF’s important work on understanding the impact of diet and weight on the incidence of diseases like pancreatic cancer,” said Julie Fleshman, president and chief executive officer of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. “With continued, strategic research investments from both private and government sources, we can gain the knowledge and expertise that is required to make real advances in the prevention, detection and treatment of this deadly disease.”

A September 2012 report from the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network estimates that incidence of pancreatic cancer will more than double by 2030, and that within this decade the number of pancreatic cancer deaths per year will exceed those of breast and colorectal cancer.

The AICR/WCRF CUP Pancreatic Cancer 2012 report also finds that it is no longer clear that foods containing folate offer protection against pancreatic cancer. This represents a downgrading of the judgment from the AICR/WCRF second expert report, which concluded in 2007 that there was evidence for a probable link between foods containing folate and lower risk for pancreatic cancer.

Fat and Pancreatic Cancer: What’s the Link?

The pancreas is a gland located behind the stomach that produces digestive juices as well as insulin and other hormones. Research continues to document several reasons why carrying excess fat increases risk for pancreatic cancer.

Fat tissue produces cytokines (proteins) that cause inflammation, which link to changes that promote cancer in healthy cells. Being overweight and obese also increases blood levels of insulin and related hormones that can encourage the growth of cancer.

This is why, in addition to pancreatic cancer, carrying excess body fat has been shown to increase risk for cancers of the breast, colon, esophagus, kidney, endometrium and gall bladder, not to mention type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Folate Link Downgraded

Research on cancer prevention is always evolving, which is why AICR/WCRF created the CUP, a living database of the global cancer research that is investigating links between lifestyle and cancer risk. As research is added to the database, the CUP panel periodically re-evaluates the strength of various links to ensure that AICR’s advice always reflects the state-of-the-science.

matrixFor the first time, a link that originally earned the judgment Probable in 2007 has been downgraded to Limited Evidence – No Conclusion, signifying that the current evidence does not support a role for folate consumption protecting against pancreatic cancer. Foods containing folate include dark leafy greens, beans and peanuts.

But experts at AICR are quick to point out that this downgrade does not change the organization’s take-home message that plant-based diets are cancer-protective. “There is still clear and convincing evidence that diets high in a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans lower risk for several cancers, including those of the colorectum, esophagus, stomach and more,” said AICR’s Alice Bender, MS, RD.

The Bottom Line

Maintaining a healthy weight is one of the most important things you can do to prevent this deadly disease. Avoiding tobacco use is another. If you smoke, stop now. If you don’t, never start.


Notes for Editors

  • The pancreas is an organ located in the abdomen behind the stomach. It produces digestive juices, insulin and other hormones.
  • The estimated cases of preventable cancers is calculated from 19 percent of the 43,920 new cases the National Cancer Institute estimates will occur in 2012.
  • AICR/WCRF’s 2009 Policy and Action for Cancer Prevention, includes an appendix that estimates the proportion of preventable cancers by cross-referencing findings about how much different patterns of diet and physical activity affect risk of cancer against dietary surveys. For each lifestyle factor, people were divided into three groups – low, medium and high consumption. Preventability estimates were calculated by assuming everyone behaved the same as the healthiest group.
  • The CUP team at Imperial College, London, considered 79 papers relating to pancreatic cancer, diet and lifestyle published since 2005. This was added to the 129 papers included in the AICR/WCRF 2007 second expert report. An independent panel of expert scientists – the CUP panel – then analyzed all the research to reach a conclusion.
  • The CUP is the world’s largest central resource for scientific evidence on diet, physical activity, body weight and cancer. To date, the CUP has added more than 2,600 papers on eight cancers – breast, prostate, colon, pancreatic, endometrial, ovarian, bladder and kidney – and is in the early stages of reviewing new research on breast cancer survivors. The CUP panel judges the research findings as each cancer type is updated and makes conclusions to give people advice on reducing their cancer risk.

U.S. CUP Panel Members:

Elisa Bandera, MD, PhD
The Cancer Institute of New Jersey
New Brunswick, New Jersey

Stephen Hursting, PhD, MPH
University of Texas
Austin, Texas

Anne McTiernan, MD, PhD
Fred Hutchinson
Cancer Research Center
Seattle, Washington

Published on November 8, 2012

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