Starchy diet linked to higher risk of pancreatic cancer

September 10, 2002 in Cancer Prevention, Nutrition Topics in the News

Starchy diet linked to higher risk of pancreatic cancer

A diet high in white bread, white rice and potatoes puts women at much higher risk of pancreatic cancer--especially if they are overweight and do not exercise much, say researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital and the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.

Substituting less starchy vegetables such as broccoli for potatoes and rice and snacking on fruit are some simple steps women can take to reduce their risk for pancreatic cancer.

The scientists used data from the Nurse's Health Study, an ongoing study of 89,000 nurses who carefully record their diet and other habits and whose health is then watched. They found that eating lots of unrefined starches, such as white bread and potatoes, increased the risk of pancreatic cancer by 57%. However the numbers were just on the border of being statistically significant, meaning the link is not a strong one.

However, when the researchers looked only at women who were both overweight and sedentary, their risk was 2.5 times higher.

There is a good reason to suspect diet may be involved in pancreatic cancer, Being obese, leading a sedentary lifestyle, and eating a diet high in sugars all increase insulin levels. Insulin production is one of the pancreas' main functions.

Studies in the lab have shown that insulin promotes the growth of pancreatic cancer cells. The researchers suspect that if the body maintains a high level of insulin, this increases pancreatic cancer's ability to survive and grow.

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