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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, April 22, 2005

UH study shows too much meat raises risk of pancreatic cancer

By Beverly Creamer
Advertiser Education Writer

Eating too much Spam, hot dogs, sausages, red meat and pork can increase the risk of developing pancreatic cancer, according to University of Hawai'i researchers associated with the Cancer Research Center of Hawai'i.

However, more study is needed to determine what it is about meat — from processing methods to cooking — that is the cause, researcher Ute Nothlings said, adding it's more likely that preparation techniques are the culprit rather than something contained within the meat such as fat or cholesterol.

By analyzing dietary data from 190,545 multiethnic people in Hawai'i and Los Angeles between 1993 and 2001, Nothlings saw an increased risk of pancreatic cancer among those who ate the highest levels of processed meat, red meat and pork. And she said that reducing one's intake of all could reduce the cancer risk.

Study results were disclosed at the annual meeting in California this week of the American Association for Cancer Research.

Professor Tim Key, director of Cancer Research for the United Kingdom's Epidemiology Unit in England, agreed that additional research is needed to verify the findings. "The weight of research has yet to verify a definite link between the two," Key said.

The Hawai'i team said that the risk increased by 67 percent for those with the highest intake of processed meats — or approximately 70 grams per day — compared with those who ate the lowest intake, or about 7 grams per day. One ounce of meat is equal to about 28 grams.

As well, those who had the highest intake of red meat and pork — or about 40 grams compared to those who ate 4 grams — had an increased pancreatic cancer risk of 50 percent.

"The only thing we can say is you might reduce the risk of pancreatic cancer by reducing your intake of red meat or processed meat," said Nothlings of the results of the seven-year population study.

"We couldn't find any association with the fat," she said. "We don't think it's the fat."

Among the study group, 482 developed pancreatic cancer. In the overall U.S. population, an estimated 32,000 new cases of pancreatic cancer were discovered last year, said Nothlings.

"I think this is an important piece of information just because of the size of the study and the number of cases," he said. "For pancreatic cancer it's the largest number of cases studied with a comprehensive dietary questionnaire."

The study was conducted through a questionnaire between 1992 and 1993 and follow-up was done through 2001. Study participants were volunteers between the ages of 45 and 75 with a mean age of 65 for those with cancer and 60 for those without.

Reach Beverly Creamer at 525-8013 or bcreamer@honoluluadvertiser.com.