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Processed Meat Linked to Pancreatic Cancer, Study Shows

Leave it up to science to give you one more reason to make healthier food choices. A new study published in the British Journal of Cancer shows a link between eating processed meat with increased risk for pancreatic cancer.

Data from 11 trials and over 6,000 pancreatic cancer patients was analyzed and researchers concluded the following:

  • Eating 50 grams of processed meat daily – the equivalent of one sausage and two pieces of bacon—raised a person’s risk by 19 percent
  • Eating an extra 100 grams increased the risk by 38 percent

Pancreatic cancer is ranked as the fourth most common cause of cancer death across the globe. It’s extremely hard to diagnose and when it is discovered, the patient is usually in the late stages. Survival rates are poor, 95 percent of its victims die within five years of diagnosis.

In 2010, nearly 43,000 people in the US were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Although it accounts for only 2.5% of new cases, pancreatic cancer is responsible for 6% of cancer deaths each year.

The association between processed meat consumption and the risk of pancreatic cancer isn’t such a stretch due to the way processed meats are preserved. These meats are cured with nitrite and may also contain N-nitroso compounds. These compounds, which are potent carcinogens –substances known to cause cancer—enter the pancreas through the bloodstream and have been shown to cause pancreatic cancer in animals. Another study examined the intake of animal products by humans and positively associated the risk of pancreatic cancer in both men and women with N-nitroso compounds.

N-nitroso compounds also come from smoking cigarettes, which is a known risk factor for pancreatic cancer.

Red meat consumption was also tested as part of this study. However, the risks of eating red meat compared to not eating any red meat were inconclusive. The results showed that there was a 29 percent increase in risk for pancreatic cancer in men who ate 120 grams of red meat per day; there was no increased risk for women. But researchers cautioned that the men in the study tended to eat more red meat than the women.

More large studies are needed to determine if red meat is a definite risk factor, however, the new data from this study definitely suggests that processed meat plays a role in the risk for developing pancreatic cancer.

January 16th, 2012

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