The pancreas is a gland located behind the stomach that produces enzymes essential for the digestion of food as well as insulin, the hormone responsible for maintaining blood sugar levels at normal levels. The appearance of cancer of this important gland therefore has catastrophic repercussions on health and leads almost inexorably to the death of those affected.
Although it represents only a small proportion of new cancers diagnosed each year, pancreatic cancer is still the fifth leading cause of cancer death. Pancreatic cancer is devastating because it progresses most of the time in silence, without causing any particular disorders that would encourage those affected to consult their doctor.
When the first symptoms appear (jaundice, weight loss, fatigue, pain in the abdomen or back), it is often already too late because the cancer cannot be operated on and has started to spread to the surrounding tissues (liver, lymph nodes) in the form of metastases.
As a result, less than 5% of all patients are alive 5 years after diagnosis. Among the patients whose tumor cannot be operated on, half succumb between 4 and 5 months after diagnosis. Pancreatic cancer is truly a devastating disease, virtually incurable and probably the best example of the destructive power of cancer.
Risk factors for pancreatic cancer
Considering the high mortality rate associated with pancreatic cancer, a preventive approach is certainly the best way to deal with this disease. At present, a number of factors that increase the risk of being affected by this cancer have been defined and can therefore contribute to reducing the incidence of the disease:
– The most important is undoubtedly smoking which, in addition to causing the vast majority of lung cancers, considerably increases the risk of pancreatic cancer.
– the abundant consumption of red meats and deli meats also significantly increases the probability of developing this cancer. It seems that this effect could be caused by the presence of carcinogenic compounds formed during the cooking of meat at high temperatures, on barbecues for example.
– Cooking meat at high temperatures, such as on barbecues, causes the formation of carcinogenic compounds. It would be best to avoid consuming charred food on the grill too often.
– It is therefore preferable to reduce the consumption of these red meats by replacing them, for example, with poultry, and to avoid consuming too often foods charred by cooking on the grill.
– As is the case with many cancers, it has long been suspected that low fruit and vegetable intake is also an important risk factor for pancreatic cancer.
Preventive factors for the occurrence of pancreatic cancer
A study supports this hypothesis and suggests that this protective effect of fruits and vegetables is mainly linked to their folic acid content, a very important molecule for maintaining the integrity of genetic material in our cells.
In this study, people who consumed 5 servings of fruit and vegetables a day, corresponding to a folic acid intake of approximately 350 micrograms, saw their risk of being affected by pancreatic cancer drop drastically, 75% less than in people consuming only one to two servings per day (less than 200 micrograms of folic acid).
Another important point noted by the researchers of the study, this beneficial effect of folic acid is only observed for the molecule of food origin, that is to say present naturally in fruits and vegetables. While the intake of folic acid by taking vitamin supplements has no impact on the risk of pancreatic cancer. This observation is crucial because there are currently too many people who believe they can compensate for a poor quality diet by buying (often at high prices!) multi-vitamins or other dietary supplements. But, as the results of this study show, the tablets will never replace the benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables in preventing the development of cancer… while being much more pleasant to consume!
Prevention in 4 points
In summary, it is possible to reduce the risk of being affected by pancreatic cancer by modifying a number of aspects of lifestyle:
– Stop smoking
– Reduce the consumption of deli meats and red meats, especially charred meats.
– Consume at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day, especially those rich in folic acid such as spinach, asparagus, broccoli and oranges.
– Legumes are also an exceptional source of folic acid and their high protein content makes them a very interesting replacement for making meatless dishes.