Consuming sweetened food and drink on a regular basis significantly raises the risk for pancreatic cancer, according to a new study by Sweden's Karolinska Institute, one of the leading medical universities in Europe.
Commenting on the retrospective study, Israel Cancer Association chairman Prof. Eliezer Robinson has urged the public to reduce their consumption of sweets, to eat healthful foods and to exercise regularly.
According to the Health Ministry's National Cancer Registry, about 500 cases of pancreatic cancer are diagnosed each year. In the Jewish population, the prevalence is 10 cases per 100,000 people. The disease, whose symptoms are not specific, is usually diagnosed at a late stage in people between the ages of 60 and 80.
Until now, studies have shown that smokers and patients with a chronic inflammation of the pancreas caused by high alcohol consumption were at high risk for the disease; now, frequent consumers of sugar have been added.
Pancreatic cancer is a very serious form of cancer that is possibly caused when the pancreas produces heightened levels of insulin as a consequence of upset glucose metabolism. A well-known way of increasing insulin production is to eat a lot of sugar. The Karolinska scientists have now, for the first time, shown that the consumption of sweetened food and drink affects a person's chances of developing pancreatic cancer.
The study, just published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, began in 1997, when scientists ran a dietary survey of almost 80,000 healthy women and men. This group was subsequently monitored until June 2005. According to the cancer registry, 131 people from this group developed cancer of the pancreas.
The researchers have now been able to show that the risk of developing pancreatic cancer is related to the amount of sugar in the diet. Most at risk were those who drank large quantities of carbonated or syrup-based drinks. Those who said they drank such products twice a day or more ran a 90 percent higher risk than those who never drank them. People who added sugar to food or drinks (such as coffee) at least five times a day ran a 70% greater risk than those who did not. People who ate creamed fruit (a sugared product resembling runny jam) at least once a day also ran a higher risk - they developed the disease 50% more often than those who never ate creamed fruit.
"Despite the fact that the chances of developing pancreatic cancer are relatively small, it's important to learn more about the risk factors behind the disease," said Susanna Larsson, one of the researchers involved in the study.
"It is perhaps the most serious form of cancer, with very poor prognoses for its victims. Since it's difficult to treat and is often discovered too late, it's particularly important that we learn to prevent it," she added.
Robinson said evidence was mounting that a proper diet could reduce the risk of certain kinds of cancers, while poor nutrition (junk food, red and smoked meat and sugars) could increase the risk of their development.