Healthy Diet Linked to Lower Risk of Pancreatic Cancer

People who most closely follow healthy eating guidelines may have a lower risk of pancreatic cancer, according to a new study.

Researchers from the National Cancer Institute and other institutions studied more than 500,000 people (ages 50-71) who were already taking part in a long-term study that tracked their eating habits. They compared participants’ eating habits with the federal government’s 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Those guidelines recommended eating plenty of fruits, vegetables and beans; whole grains instead of refined grains; and low-fat or fat-free dairy. They also recommended limiting fat and added sugars. (The government updated these guidelines in 2010.)

After about 10 years of follow-up, 2,383 people in the study developed pancreatic cancer. The researchers found that people who most closely followed the 2005 dietary guidelines had a 15% lower risk of developing pancreatic cancer than the people who followed the guidelines least closely. The effect was stronger in men than in women, and stronger among overweight or obese men compared to normal-weight men. The analysis accounted for smoking, alcohol use, and diabetes, all of which raise pancreatic cancer risk

The study was published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

The researchers say previous studies of diet and pancreatic cancer risk have had mixed results, and these new findings would need to be confirmed before anyone could say for sure that certain eating habits could lower pancreatic cancer risk. That’s because people who eat well also tend to have other healthy habits, like getting exercise and not smoking, that also could lower their risk.

Of course, eating well has numerous other health benefits. The American Cancer Society’s Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention recommend:

  • eating at least 2 ½ cups of vegetables and fruits every day
  • eating whole gains instead of refined grains
  • limiting how much red meat (beef, pork, lamb) and processed meat (bacon, sausage, hot dogs, cold cuts) you eat
  • drinking no more than 1 alcoholic drink per day for women and 2 for men

Staying at a healthy weight and getting plenty of physical activity also are important.


The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master's-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

"The Healthy Eating Index 2005 and Risk of Pancreatic Cancer in the NIH-AARP Study." Published online August 15, 2013  in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. First author: Hannah Arem, PhD, National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, Maryland.

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