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Vitamin C, E, Omega 3-fatty acids prevent pancreatic cancer

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Although pancreatic cancer is highly lethal,  we don't know much about its etiology except that smoking has been linked to increased risk of the disease.

Now a study published Jan 26 2010 in the International Journal of Cancer has found evidence suggesting that high intake of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins C and E may reduce the risk of developing pancreatic cancer.

Gong Z and colleagues from the School of Medicine University of California in San Francisco analyzed data from a large population-based case-control study in the San Francisco Bay area and found high intake of vitamin C and E and omega 3 fatty acids was associated with low risk of pancreatic cancer.

Study subjects with intake of eight saturated fatty acids in the highest quartile were at a 60 to 160 percent increased risk of pancreatic cancer compared to those with their intake in the lowest quartile.

Those who had their intake of monounsaturated palmitoleic and oleic fatty acids in the highest quartile were at 60 percent and 40 percent increased risk respectively compared to those with their intake in the lowest quartile.

Intake of polyunsaturated linolenic acid in the highest quartile seemed to increase the risk of pancreatic cancer by 50 percent compared to the lowest quartile.

Gadolic acid and omega -3 fatty acids were found beneficial. The highest intake was linked to 32 percent and 53 percent reduced risk of pancreatic cancer compared to the lowest intake.

Vitamin C and vitamin E were inversely associated with the risk. Comparing the lowest intake, the highest intake of vitamin C and E were associated with 31 and 33 percent reduced risk respectively.

No association was found for vitamins from food though.

The researchers concluded "These results support the hypotheses that a high intake of saturated and certain monounsaturated fatty acids may increase the risk of pancreatic cancer, whereas greater intake of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins C and E may reduce the risk."

Pancreatic cancer is diagnose in 42,000 people each year in the U.S. and the disease kills 35,000 annually in the country, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Early pancreatic cancer often does not cause any symptoms.  When the cancer grows, symptoms that become apparent include pain in the upper abdomen or upper back, yellow skin and eyes, and dark urine from jaudice, weakness, loss of appetite, nausea and vomitting and weight loss.

The prognosis for the disease is very poor.  About 5 percent of patients diagnosed with the disease are alive five years after diagnosis.  Among those who receive surgery, about 10 to 30 percent are alive five years after diagnosis.  Only about 20 percent of patients find their cancer early enough to undergo surgery, which boosts the odds of surviving.  Surgery itself is risky and 1 to 16 percent of patients could die during the surgery.

By David Liu

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