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Pancreatic Cancer Not Linked To Cured Meats

July 1, 2011

Despite years of supposition that cured meats may cause pancreatic cancer due to the nitrite and nitrate that is used, a new study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology has declared them to be blameless.

Pancreatic cancer is highly lethal and scientists have long been seeking to identify factors that might trigger it. Every year some 43,000 Americans are diagnosed with the disease – 95 percent die within five years.

“Prevention is really the best way to save a life,” Dr. Daniel Chang, a cancer specialist at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, who was not involved in the new work, told Reuters.

Scientists from the National Cancer Institute asked more than 300,000 people to fill out a 124-item food questionnaire to test how much nitrate and nitrite people got from their diet.

Of all the responses of those who filled out the questionnaire, just over 1,000, one third of one percent, developed pancreatic cancer within 10 years. Men who ate the most of the preservatives did appear to have a slightly higher chance of getting the disease, but that increase was so small it might as well have been due to chance, according to the study.

There was no hint of a higher risk among women.

Experts explain the study doesn’t mean people shouldn’t strive to eat a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low in fatty foods such as cured meats.

“There are a number of good reasons to practice improved dietary habits — not just for cancer prevention,” Dr. Al Benson, a cancer specialist at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, told Reuters.

“We routinely recommend people limit their intake of fatty foods, and many of these animal products also contain nitrite and nitrate salts.”

Lighting up, eating lots of sugar, and being obese have all been tied to a higher risk of pancreatic cancer in earlier work. “By and large, the best we can do to prevent pancreatic and other cancers,” said Benson, “is to encourage people to avoid smoking, to avoid obesity, and to practice improved dietary habits.”

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