A DIET high in processed meat (sausages, luncheon meats, etc.) may increase the risk of carnivores developing pancreatic cancer by almost 70 percent, reported a recent major study that was published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute and released to the public in October 2005.
The report showed “an average of 41 cases of pancreatic cancer were diagnosed per 100,000 people each year among those who ate the most processed meat compared with 20 cases among those who ate the least.”
This research, which included 180,000 individuals, also found that individuals who ate even non-processed red meats, including pork, beef, and any other red meats, had a 50 percent higher risk of having cancer of the pancreas. While this is 20 percent lower compared to those who ate processed meats, 50% increase in the risk is still too high for comfort, since pancreatic cancer is a very painful and fatal disease, with no known cure.
Scientists think the culprit-carcinogen (cancer-causing agent) may not be the saturated fat in red meats but the nitrate-based preservatives and the cooking method, like charcoal grilling and broiling. Apparently, the cooking method and the nitrate preservatives each play a great role as carcinogens.
While the saturated fat in fresh (no preservative) red meat appears not to be linked to pancreatic cancer in this study, other studies have shown that people who eat red meat regularly have a higher risk for developing cancer of the colon, breast, and other cancers in general, compared to those who minimize eating red meat. Red meat also causes a quick rise in the cholesterol blood level, a condition that increases the risk for the development of heart attack and stroke.
In 2005 alone, 32,180 Americans and 60,000 Europeans were found to have pancreatic cancer, a disease that is often diagnosed late because they are not readily obvious clinically. Less than 5 percent of these patients live for more than five years after the cancer is first detected.
Other risk factors include smoking, family history of cancer of the pancreas, obesity, diabetes, age (older ones), gender (male), ethnicity (African), exposure to certain dyes, pesticides, and chemicals related to gasoline. Helicobacter pylori infection that causes the common ulcer of the stomach is also a predisposing factor. African Americans appear to have higher incidence of pancreatic cancer and poorer prognosis than Whites.
Abdominal ultrasound, CT scan, and Endoscopic ultrasound are some procedures, together with some blood and liver function tests, that aid in the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.
The treatment of pancreatic cancer varies according to the stage of the malignancy. The management includes surgery, radiation, chemotherapy alone, and chemotherapy with a targeted treatment. The Whipple Procedure is the most popular surgery for cancer of the head of the pancreas. Modern advances in surgery today have allowed resection of pancreatic cancers which were considered unresectable in the past. Completely resected pancreatic cancer provides the best opportunity for a survival on a longer term, albeit still not a cure.
The most common drug used is gemcitabine (Gemzar), but recently this drug, in combination with erlotimib (Tarceva), has proved useful in advanced cases. Chemotherapy may be used in combination with radiation, which uses high energy x-rays to shrink the tumor or slow its growth.
The other option is biological and targeted therapies, which “enhances the body natural immune system to stop tumor growth, changing cellular signals that permit tumor growth, making tumors more susceptible to an immune system attack; and blocking the process that change normal cells into cancer, thereby stopping the abnormal growth behavior of a tumor.”
Smoking is one of the most significant risk factors, besides eating red meat. For prevention, minimizing red meat ingestion, abstinence from cigarettes, maintaining a normal body weight, daily exercises, and eating a lot of vegetables, fruits and whole grains have all been found to significantly lower the risk of the development of pancreatic cancer, not to mention heart disease, stroke, other forms of cancer, and even Alzheimer’s.
In cardiovascular illnesses, like heart attack and stroke, in metabolic diseases, like type 2 diabetes, and in most cancers, lifestyle and personal behavior are the greatest factors in the causation of these maladies, and these killers are, therefore, preventable.
As always, as far as our health is concerned, the ball is in our court. How we play it will determine the quality of our life and our future.
Philip S. Chua, MD, FACS, FPCS, Cardiac Surgeon Emeritus in Northwest Indiana and chairman of cardiac surgery from 1997 to 2010 at Cebu Doctors University Hospital, where he holds the title of Physician Emeritus in Surgery, is based in Las Vegas, Nevada. He is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, the Philippine College of Surgeons, and the Denton A. Cooley Cardiovascular Surgical Society. He is the chairman of the Filipino United Network – USA, a 501(c)(3) humanitarian foundation in the United States. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org