Dietary fat associated with pancreatic cancer risk

Large amounts of saturated and monounsaturated fats in the diet can make you fat, and may also increase the risk of pancreatic cancer, according to a report in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Saturated fats from animal food sources showed the strongest association with pancreatic cancer, increasing the risk of this malignancy by 43 percent. Consumption of red meat and dairy products increased the odds of pancreatic cancer by 27 percent and 19 percent, respectively.

Although a few reports have identified dietary fat as a risk factor for pancreatic cancer, others have failed to show an association, note Dr. Rachael Z. Stolzenberg-Solomon, from the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, and colleagues. To better understand the relationship, the researchers analyzed data from the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study.

The study included 308,736 men and 216,737 women who completed a food frequency questionnaire from 1995 to 1996. During an average follow-up period of 6.3 years, 865 men and 472 women developed pancreatic cancer.

Consumption of total fat, saturated fat, and monounsaturated fat were all significantly linked to pancreatic cancer, but polyunsaturated fat, by contrast, did not increase the risk.

As mentioned, fats of animal origin conferred the highest risk. According to a related editorial, however, the jury is still out on whether animal fat is directly associated with pancreatic cancer.

This well-performed study “is a welcome addition to our understanding of a disease that is in great need of new insights,” write editorialists Drs. Brian M. Wolpin and Meir J. Stampfer, from Harvard Medical School, Boston.

“However, the available epidemiological and laboratory evidence are insufficient to confirm the importance of animal fats, per se, or even that meat is the important factor, as opposed to other dietary or lifestyle preferences associated with meat consumption.”

SOURCE: Journal of the National Cancer Institute, June 26, 2009 online.

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