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More Fruit, Veggies, Less Sugar, Red Meat

The recent loss of beloved actor Patrick Swayze to pancreatic cancer at age 57 is a sad but compelling prologue to  November’s Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. Swayze lived a year and a half after diagnosis — about three times the six month median survival time. Called the “stealth cancer,” pancreatic cancer accounts for just 2% of new U.S. cancer cases — yet is the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths, in part because the cancer is so difficult to detect (tucked behind the small intestine, the pancreas is a small organ which produces insulin and releases enzymes that help aid digestion). As  prevention is key, here are a few things you can do to minimize your risk:

  • Eat more tomatoes, watermelon and guava — all top sources of lycopene, which might help protect the pancreas, according to a University of Montreal study.
  • Eat more canned salmon and sardines — top sources of vitamin D. A study by Northwestern University shows 400 IU of vitamin D daily can cut pancreatic cancer risk by 43%.
  • Eat at least two cups of vegetables a day — yams, carrots, onions and dark leafy greens – to halve your pancreatic cancer risk, according to a study funded by the National Cancer Institute. Other lab research suggests a possible protective benefit from spinach, onions and cabbage, which respectively contain kaempferol, quercetin and myricetin.
  • Load up on beans, artichokes and beets, which are among the top whole-food sources of folate, linked to lower pancreatic cancer risk. Supplements do not have the same benefit.
  • Avoid processed meat and limit red meat, which are linked to a 70% and 53% increased risk respectively. Compounds formed during the cooking process may be more to blame than saturated fat since poultry, dairy and eggs are not associated with increased risk.
  • Avoid sugar-sweetened soda and sugar added to drinks and cereal — which is associated with a 90% increased risk of developing the cancer.
  • Quit smoking! You know cigarettes cause lung cancer, but smokers are also 2 to 3 times more likely to develop pancreatic cancer.

Published November 1, 2009

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