Alternative Names: Carcinoma of the Pancreas, Pancreatic Carcinoma
Cancer of the pancreas is both an acquired and a genetic disease. It is caused by changes (mutations) in DNA, which can be inherited or acquired; the inherited changes explain why cancer of the pancreas runs in some families whereas the acquired changes can result from exposure to carcinogens and/or an immune system which is depressed in some way, rendering it less capable of killing cancerous cells once they develop.
There are factors which can increase the risk of developing genetic mutations that may potentially result in pancreatic cancer. It has now become clear that cancer of the pancreas runs in some families: relatives of patients with cancer of the pancreas have an increased risk for developing pancreatic cancer themselves. For those with an increased risk due to this factor or a history of pancreatic cancer, preventive actions should be taken.
As many as 10% of pancreatic cancers are caused by inherited defects in the BRCA2 gene. One particular defect in BRCA2 (a mutation called 6174 del T) is found in 1% of Ashkenazi Jews which may explain the higher rate of pancreatic cancer observed in Jews as compared to Catholics or Protestants. Testing is now available for BRCA2 mutations.
Pancreatic malignancy has one of the highest mortality rates for cancer, being the fifth leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. A full 80% of patients diagnosed with it die within a year.
Pancreatic cancer usually causes a dull pain that may become worse after eating.
Cigarette smoke contains a large number of carcinogens and therefore it should come as no surprise that cigarette smoking is one of the biggest risk factors for developing pancreatic cancer. For example, smoking during college has been associated with a 2 to 3-fold increased risk of pancreatic cancer.
Approximately 30% of all deaths from pancreatic cancer are attributable to cigarette smoking. Historically, males have had a much higher incidence of cancer of the pancreas. However, this difference is steadily decreasing as women smoke earlier and more heavily. There is approximately a 2-fold increase in the risk of developing pancreatic cancer with smoking and this risk is dose-dependent.
At least two studies have found that obesity significantly increases one's risk of developing pancreatic cancer. [JAMA. 2001;286: pp.921-929]
Studies in the United States have shown that pancreatic cancer is more common in the African-American population than it is in the white population. Some of this increased risk may be due to socioeconomic factors and higher levels of cigarette smoking.
Several studies have noted a reduction in the risk of esophageal, gastric and biliary cancers among regular aspirin users.
Studies linking coffee consumption with cancer are conflicting and inconclusive at this point, but there is a suggestion of a higher incidence of cancers of the pancreas, ovaries, bladder, and kidneys in coffee drinkers.
May, 2005: The University of Hawaii released a new study that shows people who consume processed meats have a 67% increased risk of pancreatic cancer over those who consume little or no meat products. The study was done over a period of seven years on nearly 200,000 people. Researchers pin the blame on sodium nitrite, a chemical used in nearly all processed meats, including sausage, hot dogs, jerkies, bacon, lunch meat, and even meats in canned soup products. Sodium nitrite is a precursor to highly carcinogenic nitrosamines – potent cancer-causing chemicals that accelerate the formation and growth of cancer cells throughout the body.
Although the body of evidence is small, an alternative treatment for pancreatic cancer has brought hope to a handful of patients and caught the attention of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) which is funding a five-year clinical trial. Based on this preliminary evidence that pancreatic enzymes kill pancreatic cancer cells, it would be prudent to ensure pancreatic sufficiency or use pancreatic enzymes supplementally when the risk of developing pancreatic cancer is increased.
Dr. Gonzales, M.D. reviewed and published the follow-up results of 11 patients who followed his treatment regime. They lived on average three times longer than expected. Gonzales said all the patients were in an advanced stage of the illness, and their conditions were inoperable. He further stated that "the survival rate at this stage is usually about 4-5 months, but the survival rate for the test patients was 17 1/2 months... I think the pancreatic enzymes do have a powerful anti-cancer effect. We do use diet (fruits and vegetables), we do use coffee enemas, we do use vitamins and minerals. I don't think any of those things kill cancer cells. I do think pancreatic enzymes do." [Nutrition and Cancer 33(2): pp.117-24]
Regular and substantial consumption of green tea may provide protective effect against this type of cancer.
Study subjects who ate two or more servings of fish weekly had a much lower risk for esophageal, stomach, colon, rectum, and pancreatic cancers than those who avoided fish. In fact, the rates of these types of cancer were 30 to 50 percent lower among fish eaters. High fish consumption was also associated with lower risks for cancers of the larynx (30 percent lower risk), endometrial cancer (20 percent lower risk), and ovarian cancer (30 percent lower risk).
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