Researchers from Sweden suggest that there is a strong link between processed meats, such as sausage and bacon, and pancreatic cancer.
Eating 50 grams of processed meats every day — the equivalent of one sausage or two pieces of bacon — can increase the risk of pancreatic cancer by 19 percent, compared to those who do not eat processed meats of any kind.
For those who consume double the amount of processed meats, 100g per day, the increased risk also doubles to 38 percent. But while Swedish researchers find such a strong link to pancreatic cancer, experts caution that the overall risk of developing the life-threatening disease is relatively low — in the UK, the lifetime risk of developing pancreatic cancer is one in 77 for men and one in 79 for women.
Nevertheless, the disease is deadly and is most often diagnosed at an advanced stage and kills 80 percent of those diagnosed within a year. Only 5 percent of patients are still alive five years after diagnosis.
Professor Susanna Larsson, of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, leader of the new study, told BBC News that links to other cancers were “quite controversial.” She said it is known that “eating meat increases the risk of colorectal cancer, it´s not so much known about other cancers.”
Larsson´s study, published in the British Journal of Cancer, analyzed data from 11 trials and 6,643 patients with pancreatic cancer. The study found inconclusive evidence on the risks of eating red meat overall, compared to eating no red meat. In men, the study found a 29 percent increase in pancreatic cancer risk for men eating 120g of red meat per day but no increased risk for women. This may be because men in the study tended to eat more red meat than women.
“The increased risk was found only in processed meat,” Hazel Nunn from Cancer Research UK told James Gallagher of BBC News.
“Pancreatic cancer has poor survival rates. So as well as diagnosing it early, it´s important to understand what can increase the risk of this disease, said Larsson.
Eating less red meat is definitely a start, she said.
“Findings from this meta-analysis indicate that processed meat consumption is positively associated with pancreatic cancer risk,” the study authors conclude. “Further prospective studies are needed to confirm these findings.”
This new study adds to understanding about the risk factors for developing pancreatic cancer. Smoking is believed to account for nearly a third of all cases of the disease, and smokers have a 74 percent increased risk of developing it compared to non-smokers.
“There is strong evidence that being overweight or obese [also] increases the risk of pancreatic cancer and this study may be an early indication of another factor behind the disease,” Dr Rachel Thompson, deputy head of science at World Cancer Research Fund, told BBC and The Guardian.
Larsson said if diet also affects the disease “then this could influence public health campaigns to help reduce the number of cases of this disease developing in the first place.”
More than 8,000 people were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the UK in 2008 — 3 percent of all cancer cases — and nearly 96 percent died from it. “The jury is still out as to whether meat is a definite risk factor for pancreatic cancer and more large studies are needed to confirm this. But this new analysis suggests processed meat may be playing a role,” Sara Hiom, director of information at Cancer Research UK, told BBC News.
“We will be re-examining the factors behind pancreatic cancer later this year as part of our Continuous Update Project, which should tell us more about the relationship between cancer of the pancreas and processed meat,” said Thompson.
“Regardless of this latest research, we have already established a strong link between eating red and processed meat and your chances of developing bowel cancer, which is why WCRF recommends limiting intake of red meat to 500g cooked weight a week and avoid processed meat altogether,” Thompson concluded.
“These findings, if confirmed by further studies, could help inform people on which lifestyle factors could play a role in limiting their chances of developing the disease,” Alex Ford, chief executive of Pancreatic Cancer UK, told The Guardian.
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