Category Archives: Pancreatic Cancer

Boosting Healthy Bacteria for a Healthy Pancreas

Jessica Cote and Danielle Shapiro, MD, MPH, Cancer Prevention and Treatment Fund

Pancreatic cancer is rare–less than 2% of Americans will develop it in their lifetimes. However, pancreatic cancer is the 4th most common cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S. claiming more than 43,000 American lives in 2017.[1]  The good news is that  prevention is possible, since most pancreatic cancers are not cause by inherited genes. Smoking and alcohol use are the major known causes, and can double the lifetime risk to about 3%. Quitting smoking and cutting back on alcohol are good ways to prevent pancreatic cancer and so is a healthy mouth and gut. Scientists have recently discovered that the bacteria living in our bodies can help us stay healthy and ward off dangerous cancers.

What is the Microbiome?

Inside our bodies we have hundreds of type of living bacteria and other organisms; this community of microorganisms is called the microbiome. These organisms live in harmony with our body and can keep us from getting sick, so we call them “probiotic” or “good bacteria.” In 2012, Scientists from the National Institutes of Health started the Human Microbiome Project to study the role of the microbiome in human health and disease.

We can increase the amounts of good bacteria in our body by eating foods rich in natural probiotics or taking a probiotic supplement. Probiotic-rich foods include: yogurt, sourdough bread, sour pickles, soft cheeses, sauerkraut, tempeh (fermented soy and grains), and other foods. Check out this list — you’re bound to find something you like!

Oral Bacteria and Pancreatic Cancer

A 2017 review found that gum disease can increase the chances of developing pancreatic cancer in a lifetime to about 2.4% to 3.2%. When scientists studied the blood of patients before they got diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, they began to find patterns of “bad” vs. “good” bacteria.[3]

Since diagnosing cancer early is the key to effective treatment, scientists hope that it will soon be possible to have a simple screening test for pancreatic cancer by testing the saliva for certain bacteria. They believe that 9 times out of 10, if certain bacteria are present, the person is not likely to have pancreatic cancer.[4]

Although medical experts aren’t completely certain how to remove bad bacteria from the mouth and gums, they usually recommend flossing and brushing teeth regularly as well as rinsing with mouthwash as the best ways to get rid of them.

Gut Bacteria and Pancreatic Cancer

Like the mouth, certain bacteria in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract may have a role to play in the development of pancreatic cancer. The bacteria Helicobacter pylori, which causes stomach ulcers and stomach cancer, can increase the lifetime risk of pancreatic cancer to about 2.4%. These trends were more frequently seen in people living in Europe and East Asia rather than North America, which suggests that environment, diet (red meat or high temperature foods), and genetics may all help to increase or decrease the chances of developing pancreatic cancer.[5]

The Bottom Line

More research is needed to understand the link between bacteria and pancreatic cancer, and medical experts have not yet figured out how best to reduce the number of harmful bacteria in our bodies and increase the good kind. Until then, take good care of your mouth (brushing and flossing and regular visits to your dentist) and keep your gut healthy by eating fruits, vegetables, and foods rich in natural probiotics such as yogurt.

Footnotes:

  1. National Cancer Institute. Cancer Stat Facts: Pancreas Cancer. Accessed Dec. 18, 2017. Available online: https://seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/pancreas.html.
  2. National Cancer Institute. Pancreatic Cancer Treatment (PDQ®)–Patient Version. (Dec. 23, 2016). Available online: https://www.cancer.gov/types/pancreatic/patient/pancreatic-treatment-pdq#section/_162.
  3. Bracci PM. Oral Health and the Oral Microbiome in Pancreatic Cancer: An Overview of Epidemiological Studies.The Cancer Journal. 2017;23(6): 310–314. doi: 10.1097/PPO.0000000000000287
  4. Ertz-Archambault N, Keim P, Von Hoff D. Microbiome and pancreatic cancer: A comprehensive topic review of literature. World Journal of Gastroenterology. 2017;23(10):1899-1908. doi:10.3748/wjg.v23.i10.1899.
  5. Xiao M, Wang Y, Gao Y. Association between Helicobacter pylori Infection and Pancreatic Cancer Development: A Meta-Analysis. Miao X, ed. PLoS ONE. 2013;8(9):e75559. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0075559.

Alcohol and Cancer

Danielle Shapiro, MD, MPH, Cancer Prevention and Treatment Fund

The link between and alcohol and cancer may surprise you. A 2017 statement by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) reports that drinking alcohol increases the risk of cancer of the mouth and throat, vocal cords, esophagus, liver, breast, and colon. The risks are greatest in those with heavy and long-term alcohol use. Even so, moderate drinking can add up over a lifetime, which could be harmful.[1]

What is Moderate Drinking? Heavy Drinking?

According to the National institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), “moderate” drinking is 1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks per day for men, but not all “drinks” are equal. A drink is defined as approximately 14g of alcohol, which equals: 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits (e.g., vodka, gin, tequila, etc), 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, and 8 ounces of malt liquor.[1,2] (Click here to see the CDC’s fact sheet.)

Heavy drinking is defined as 8 or more drinks per week OR 3 or more drinks per day for women and 15 or more drinks per week OR 4 or more drink per day for men. Most adults who engage in high-risk drinking started as teens.[1] (Click here to see our article on teen drinking.)

Drinking Amount and Cancer Risk

According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a branch of the World Health Organization (WHO), alcohol is a “group 1 carcinogen.” That means it can cause cancer in humans. Group 1 carcinogens include cigarette smoke, UV solar radiation, radon, and asbestos, for example.[3] Alcohol is known to cause six types of cancer, including cancer of the mouth and throat, vocal cords, esophagus (squamous cell), liver, female breast, and colon/rectum. Alcohol may also be tied to cancer of the pancreas, stomach, and lung, but more research is needed to find out for certain.[4] (Click here to see the National Cancer Institute’s Fact Sheet.)

Some of these cancers, such as mouth and throat cancer, are rare (about 1% lifetime risk), while colon cancer and breast cancer are much more common. [7] Depending on the amount a person drinks, he or she can increase the risk for even rare cancers. For example, moderate drinkers can almost double their lifetime risk of mouth and throat cancer to almost 2%, while heavy drinkers have a 500% increased risk of having mouth or throat cancer, from 1% to 5%.

Scientists believe that when alcohol comes into direct contact with tissue through drinking and swallowing, it causes more damage. For example, in the heaviest drinkers, alcohol raises the lifetime risk of esophagus cancer from about 0.5% to about 2.5%.[1,7]

Women need to be more cautious when drinking any amount of alcohol. The World Cancer Research Fund estimates that for every additional average drink per day, breast cancer risk goes up by 5% pre-menopause and up by 9% after menopause. Alcohol affects the amounts of certain sex hormones circulating in the body. For women who have had hormone receptor-positive breast cancer, 7 or more weekly drinks increased the chances of having a new cancer diagnosed in the other breast from about 5% to about 10%.[1]

How Alcohol Causes Cancer

Scientists believe that alcohol causes cancer in several ways:[1, 4]

  • Alcohol (ethanol) is broken down into a toxic substance called acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde is directly toxic to the body’s cells.
  • Alcohol causes damage to cells through a process called free-radical oxidation.
  • Alcohol causes the body to absorb less folate (an important B vitamin) and other nutrients (antioxidant vitamins A, C, and E), which naturally repair damage and fight off cancers.
  • Alcohol increases the body’s level of estrogen (a sex hormone associated with breast cancer).

Does Quitting Change Your Chances of Developing Cancer or Cancer Recurrence?

Yes, drinking less alcohol on a regular basis reduces cancer risk, even in people who were already diagnosed with cancer. Research has shown that heavy or moderate drinkers who substantially reduce their alcohol consumption will slowly reduce their risk of developing mouth, throat, vocal cord, and esophagus cancer, but it would take 20 years of abstention to reduce the chances of developing those cancers to the lower chances of someone who never drank so frequently.  It is not clear whether reducing or giving up drinking after years of moderate or heavy drinking will have much impact for other alcohol-related cancers.[1]

In those who survived an esophagus cancer, drinkers tripled their risk for a new primary cancer diagnosis. On average, the risk of a new cancer diagnosis after esophagus cancer is removed is 8 % to 27%, and continuing heavy drinking will triple that risk.[5]

Among all cancer survivors, heavy drinking caused an 8% increased risk in dying and a 17% increased risk of cancer recurrence. Patients with cancer who abuse alcohol do worse because alcohol causes poorer nutrition, a suppressed immune system, and a weaker heart.[1]

What You Can Do to Lower Cancer Risk for You and Your Family

  1. . If you drink alcohol, limit drinks to an average of 1 a day for women and 2 a day for men.
  2. Recognize heavy drinking in a loved one, because the more a person drinks, the greater his or her chances of developing cancer. The “CAGE” questionnaire can help spot heavy drinking. Has the person tried to Cut back? Has the person been Annoyed when asked about drinking? Has the person felt bad or Guilty? Has the person needed a drink first thing in the morning (Eye opener)? Each “yes” counts as 1 point. A score of 2 or more suggests problem drinking.[6]
  3. Talk with your doctor about your risk. Doctors can refer or offer counseling and treatment services to patients with risky drinking habits.
  4. Seek help early. Problem drinking can’t be wished away. There are many resources to access information and help. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has a toll free hot-line and website. Call 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or visit https://findtreatment.samhsa.gov/  today.
  5. Practice healthy habits. Eating a diet rich in cancer-fighting nutrients (i.e., fruits and vegetables), exercising, maintaining a healthy weight, reducing stress, and getting restful sleep can all help to lower cancer risk. Don’t smoke, and quit if you do. Drinking and smoking increases cancer risk more than either one alone.

The Bottom Line

To prevent cancer, try to limit your drinking by sticking to a maximum average of 1 a day if you’re a woman and 2 a day if you’re a man.

All articles are reviewed and approved by Dr. Diana Zuckerman and other senior staff.

Footnotes:

  1. LoConte, NK. et al. Alcohol and Cancer: A Statement of the American Society of Clinical Oncology. Journal of Clinical Oncology. published online before print November 7, 2017. DOI: 10.1200/JCO.2017.76.1155. Available online: http://ascopubs.org/doi/full/10.1200/JCO.2017.76.1155
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Alcohol and Public Health. Fact Sheets- Moderate Drinking. Accessed November 16, 2017. Available online: https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/moderate-drinking.htm

 

Pancreatic cancer: are you at risk?

Heidi Mallis, Cancer Prevention & Treatment Fund

Pancreatic cancer is the 3rd leading cause of cancer death among women and men in the U.S.[1]

Surprising Facts

  • The five-year survival rate is less than 8%. This figure has improved only slightly since 1975, when it was 3%.[2]
  • There is no reliable screening test for early detection of pancreatic cancer.[3]
  • Only about 2.5% of the National Cancer Institute’s federal research funding is currently allocated to pancreatic cancer.[4]
  • Pancreatic cancer has claimed the lives of several public figures including: actors Patrick Swayze and Alan Rickman, opera tenor Lucianno Pavarotti, and professor and bestselling author Dr. Randy Pausch.[5]

Risk Factors

Every year, more than 50,000 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the U.S., and more than 40,000 people die from the disease.[6] It is known as a “silent killer” because its symptoms (pain, jaundice, and weight loss) can easily be mistaken for other diseases. Diagnosis is often at an advanced stage when the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, making treatment more difficult. That is why new research is needed to help identify earlier warning signs that could lower the fatality rate for this disease.

Several risk factors are known. Most are common and can’t be changed. The following traits increase your risk of developing pancreatic cancer:

  • 60 years of age or older
  • African American
  • Male
  • Smoking:  Smokers are 2-3 times more likely to develop pancreatic cancer than nonsmokers, and smoking is responsible for 20-30% of all pancreatic cancer cases.
  • Type 2 diabetes:  Several studies show that people with diabetes are more likely to also develop pancreatic cancer and vice versa, but it is unclear whether diabetes causes pancreatic cancer or is caused by pancreatic cancer.[7][8]
  • Family history of pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), ovarian, or colon cancer. If a person has an immediate family member who has any of these types of cancer, his or her chance of developing pancreatic cancer is tripled.[9]

Research has shown that family history or shared genes were a risk factor for pancreatic cancer. In 2009, new light was shed on the role of genes when a new study showed that people with blood type O may have a lower risk of pancreatic cancer than those with blood types A, B, or AB. The study was conducted by a group of researchers from several academic institutions that are part of the Pancreatic Cancer Cohort Consortium, which is affiliated with the National Cancer Institute (NCI).[10] The group hopes to further examine genetic risks, and future findings could help increase early detection and prevention of pancreatic cancer.

Regardless of blood type and other risk factors, individuals can reduce their risk of developing pancreatic cancer by lowering controllable risk factors. A study revealed that a diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, Vitamin C, and fiber might actually reduce the risk of developing pancreatic cancer.[11] Other risk factors, such as smoking or diabetes related to weight gain, can be reduced by quitting smoking and maintaining a healthy weight, which decreases a person’s risk of many other diseases as well. In addition, one study of 60,000 adults indicates that drinking fewer (non-diet) soft drinks may decrease the risk of pancreatic cancer.[12] The authors suggest that sugary drinks, by increasing insulin levels, help fuel pancreatic cancer cell growth. They also speculate that people who consume more soft drinks tend to be more likely to smoke and to eat red meat, all of which are considered potential risk factors for pancreatic cancer.

All articles are reviewed and approved by Dr. Diana Zuckerman and other senior staff.

References

  1. Cancer Treatment Centers of America. (2016, October). What should you know about pancreatic cancer? http://www.cancercenter.com/~/media/Images/Others/Misc/10-2016-pancreatic-infographic.jpg
  2. National Cancer Institute. (2016, April). Cancer Stat Facts: Pancreas Cancer. https://seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/pancreas.html
  3. American Cancer Society (2017). Can cancer of the pancreas be found early? https://www.cancer.org/cancer/pancreatic-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/detection.html
  4. Office of Budget and Finance. Fiscal year 2015 fact book. National Cancer Institute. https://www.cancer.gov/about-nci/budget/fact-book/data/research-funding
  5. Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (2016). Public figures affected by pancreatic cancer. http://media.pancan.org/pdf/Public-Figures-affected-by-pancreatic-cancer.pdf
  6. American Cancer Society (2017). Key statistics for pancreatic cancer. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/pancreatic-cancer/about/key-statistics.html
  7. Coughlin SS, Calle EE, Teras LR, Petrelli J, Thun MJ (2004). Diabetes mellitus as a predictor of cancer mortality in a large cohort of US adults. American Journal of Epidemiology, 159: 1160-1167.
  8. European Cancer Organisation. (2017, January). Diabetes or its rapid deterioration can be an early warning sign for pancreatic cancer. http://www.eccocongress.org/Global/News/ECCO2017-News/2017/01/ECCO2017-NEWS-Diabetes-or-its-rapid-deterioration-can-be-an-early-warning-sign-for-pancreatic-cancer
  9. National Cancer Institute (2017). Pancreatic cancer. U.S. National Institutes of Health. https://www.cancer.gov/types/pancreatic
  10. Amundadottir L, Kraft P, Stolzenberg-Solomon RZ, et al (2009, August 2). Genome-wide association study identifies variants in the ABO locus associated with susceptibility to pancreatic cancer. Nature Genetics, September 2009; 41(9): 986-990.
  11. Ghadirian P, Lynch HT, and Krewski D (2003). Epidemiology of pancreatic cancer: an overview. Cancer Detection and Prevention, 27(2): 87-93.
  12. Muelle NT, Odegaard A, Anderson A, Yuan J-M, Koh W-P, Pereira MA. Soft Drink and Juice Consumption and Risk of Pancreatic Cancer: The Singapore Chinese Health Study. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. 2010.19(2);447-455.

 

Can a handful of nuts a day keep cancer away?

By Krista Kleczewski and Claire Karlsson

Evidence is growing about the many ways in which eating nuts, seeds, and legumes can improve your health. These foods have been linked to healthier hearts and a lower risk of diabetes, but now studies show they may also cut your risk of getting cancer! Here’s what we know and don’t know.

Several studies show a great benefit from eating nuts, seeds, and legumes. In 2015, a Dutch study of 120,000 men and women between the ages of 55-69 found that those who ate about half a handful of nuts or peanuts each day were less likely to die from respiratory disease, neurodegenerative diseases, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, or cancer than those who consumed no nuts or seeds.1 The same benefit was not seen for peanut butter, however, which suggests that the salt, vegetable oils, and trans fatty acids in peanut butter may counterbalance the benefits of the peanuts. A 5-year study conducted in Spain of 7,000 men and women aged 55 to 80 years old found that eating at least three servings of nuts per week reduced the risk of cardiovascular and cancer death.2 Another study similarly found eating nuts – especially walnuts — reduces the risk of developing cancers, diabetes and heart disease when eaten in conjunction with the Mediterranean Diet, which also emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.3 Walnuts were highlighted by the study as reducing inflammation associated with certain cancers and other conditions like diabetes and heart disease. More evidence is needed, however, to determine the specific impact of walnuts on cancer risk.

Breast Cancer

Eating large amounts of peanuts, walnuts, or almonds can reduce the risk of developing breast cancer, according to a 2015 study of 97 breast cancer patients. 4 The researchers compared the lifetime consumption of nuts and seeds among the breast cancer patients with the consumption of those without breast cancer, finding that women who ate large quantities were half to one-third as likely to develop breast cancer. No difference was found between people who ate a small amount of nuts and seeds and those who ate none at all, suggesting that a person needs to consume a substantial amount of nuts and seeds over their lifetime to reduce their chances of developing breast cancer.

Girls who regularly eat peanuts and nuts may be less likely to develop breast cancer as adults. In a study published in 2013, girls between the ages of 9-15 who regularly ate peanut butter or any kind of nuts had almost a 40% lower chance of developing benign breast conditions as adults.5 Although not dangerous, benign breast conditions increase a woman’s chances of eventually getting breast cancer.

Many people think of peanuts as nuts, but they are actually a type of legume. Researchers found that eating legumes, which include beans, lentils, soybeans, and corn, may all reduce the risk of benign breast conditions (and therefore, breast cancer).

Can eating nuts, legumes and seeds reduce colorectal cancer risk?

To find out whether snacking on foods with peanuts lowers your chances of getting colorectal cancer (also called colon cancer), researchers studied more than 23,000 adults in Taiwan, ages 30 and older.6 The researchers found that women who ate meals with peanut products at least twice each week were less likely to develop colorectal cancer. More research is needed to see if this benefit is actually from the peanuts.

In one of the largest studies of diet and cancer, which was conducted in 10 European countries, researchers discovered that eating nuts and seeds reduced women’s chances of developing colon cancer, but did not lower the risk for men.7 Women who ate a modest daily amount of nuts and seeds (about 16 peanuts or a small handful of nuts or seeds) every day were less likely to develop colon cancer, and women who ate the largest quantities of these foods were the least likely to develop colon cancer. Again, more research is needed to understand these findings.

Pancreatic Cancer

Eating nuts also seems to lower the risk of developing diabetes,8 which may then lower the risk of developing pancreatic cancer. In addition, a large study of women found that frequently eating nuts was associated with less chance of developing pancreatic cancer,9 one of the most deadly cancers.

What about ovarian cancer?

A 2010 study examined the possible link between ovarian cancer and foods high in phytoestrogens and/or fiber, including nuts, beans, and soy. They found that these foods seemed to help prevent “borderline ovarian cancer”—slow-growing tumors that are less dangerous and more likely to affect younger women. However, these foods did not seem to protect against the more aggressive types of ovarian cancer.10

The Bottom Line

There is growing evidence that nuts, legumes, and seeds reduce the risk for several types of cancer, as well as having other health benefits. Nuts are high in calories, so don’t overdo it. It seems safe to assume that adding these foods to your diet, in small quantities several times a week, is a good idea, especially if you use them to replace less healthy snacks.

This gives new meaning to the name “health nut”!