While the exact cause of pancreatic cancer is not known with certainty, several factors—including smoking, nutrition, glucose levels, hormones, and genetics—are thought to be involved in its initiation and development.
Smoking. Smoking is a major risk factor, accounting for 25-30 percent of all cases. Heavy smokers are two to three times more at risk for cancer than are nonsmokers (Lowenfels AB et al 2002). Several studies have observed a reduction in pancreatic cancer risk within a decade after smoking cessation (Michaud DS 2004).
Nutritional influences on pancreatic cancer. DNA damage caused by exposure to free radicals has been found in human pancreatic tissues (Uden S et al 1992). In pancreatic cancer cells, antioxidant levels are much lower compared to those in non-cancerous pancreatic cells. Nutritional supplements such as alpha-tocopherol (Ferreira PR et al 2004; Hernaandez J et al 2005; Rautalahti MT et al 1999), ascorbic acid (Zullo A et al 2000), zinc (Ertekin MV et al 2004; Prasad AS et al 2004; Uden S et al 1992), and selenium may be beneficial in elevating antioxidant levels (Zhan CD et al 2004).
Glucose levels and pancreatic cancer. Abnormal sugar metabolism, diabetes (DeMeo MT 2001 Gapstur SM et al 2000), and foods that elevate after-meal blood sugar levels are associated with increased pancreatic cancer risk in individuals with insulin resistance (Michaud DS et al 2002). Increasing soluble fiber intake has been shown to improve after-meal glucose levels and insulin response in healthy subjects (Aller R et al 2004; Lu ZX et al 2000). Thus, supplemental fiber may help to stabilize glucose levels (Rayes N et al 2002; Tsai AC et al 1987).
Folate. Maintaining adequate blood folate levels or increasing folate intake from dietary or vitamin sources may reduce pancreatic cancer risk significantly (Kim YI 1999). In a study of 27,101 healthy male smokers, 157 developed pancreatic cancer during 13 years of follow-up. Those with the lowest folate intake showed a 48 percent increased risk of pancreatic cancer (Stolzenberg-Solomon RZ et al 2001).
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