A: Fortunately, cancer of the pancreas is relatively rare. It accounts for only two percent of all newly diagnosed cancers in the United States each year (although it causes five percent of all cancer deaths). The disease is more common among men than women and occurs more often among African Americans than among any other group. Most cases develop in people over the age of 60.
Your risk of developing pancreatic cancer triples if your mother, father, sister or brother had the disease. A family history of colon or ovarian cancer also increases the risk.
Please remember that most people with the risk factors mentioned above do not develop pancreatic cancer. And many people who do get the disease have no risk factors at all.
That said, the first thing I would recommend for lowering your risk is giving up cigarettes if you smoke. Smokers are two to three times more likely to develop the disease than nonsmokers. Diabetes and being overweight are other preventable risk factors, which a healthy lifestyle can attend to, and a new study suggests that eating more raw vegetables daily may cut the risk of pancreatic cancer in half.
The study, from the University of California at San Francisco, found that eating five or more servings per day of yams, corn, carrots, onions, and similar vegetables is associated with a lower risk of the disease. Eating spinach, kale and other dark green leafy vegetables, as well as cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower, also lowered the risk.
The researchers asked 2,233 men and women, including 532 pancreatic cancer patients, how much produce they ate. Then, they looked at the eating habits of the cancer patients compared with the eating habits of the others.
Tomatoes and other vegetables also were beneficial but not as protective as the yellow vegetables mentioned above or the dark green leafy vegetables. Eating citrus helped somewhat but not as much as vegetables. And overall, raw vegetables seemed to provide more protection than cooked vegetables. The study was published in the September 2005 of the journal Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention.
Andrew Weil, M.D.