Healthy Lifestyle Lowers Risk of Pancreatic Cancer

Risk of pancreatic cancer can be reduced with a healthy lifestyle.

A Healthy Lifestyle Lowers the Risk of Pancreatic Cancer

by Laurie Wertich, updated 10/2018

According to the results of a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, individuals with the healthiest lifestyles cut their risk of pancreatic cancer by more than half.

Pancreatic cancer has one of the highest mortality rates of all cancers. It accounts for less than 3% of all newly diagnosed cancers in the United States each year but 6% of all cancer deaths. Pancreatic cancer is often called a “silent killer” because its symptoms are usually not recognizable until it has advanced and spread outside the pancreas. As a result, the majority of pancreatic cancers are not diagnosed until they have reached advanced stages and are considered incurable.

The causes of pancreatic cancer remain uncertain. Factors that increase the risk of developing pancreatic cancer include cigarette smoking, increasing age, certain dietary characteristics, obesity, diabetes, and chronic pancreatitis.

To explore how combinations of healthy or unhealthy behaviors influence pancreatic cancer risk, researchers evaluated information from 450,416 participants in the National Institutes of Health-AARP Diet and Health Study. Study participants were between the ages of 50 and 71 at the time of study enrollment in 1995-1996. From the time of enrollment through 2003, 1,057 of the study participants were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

For the current analysis, study participants were graded on five positive lifestyle factors: not smoking, limited alcohol use, Mediterranean diet pattern, body mass index between 18 and 25, and regular exercise. Each factor was given a value of 1 for healthy and 0 for not healthy.

Compared with individuals with the least healthy combination of behaviors, those with the most healthy combination cut their risk of pancreatic cancer by more than half.

These results suggest that the risk of pancreatic cancer can be substantially reduced by not smoking; limiting alcohol intake; maintaining a healthy weight; engaging in regular physical activity; and eating a diet that’s rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and healthy fats such as olive oil and canola oil.

Reference: Jiao L, Panagiota NM, Reedy J et al. A combined healthy lifestyle score and risk of pancreatic cancer in a large cohort study. Archives of Internal Medicine. 1009;169:764-770.

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