Pancreatic Cancer, though rare, is the fourth biggest cancer killer in Canada. Recent studies have found a link between burned meat, high-carbohydrate or high-fat diets, and an increased risk in developing pancreatic cancer.


Charring Steak

In 2009,1 US researchers presented their findings on charred meat and pancreatic cancer at a meeting of the American Association of Cancer Research. Charring meat produces several known cancer-causing chemicals. The researchers analyzed the diets of 62,000 individuals who were all healthy at the start of the study. Participants recorded what they ate as they went along, which makes this a stronger study compared to one in which participants are asked to recall what they remembered eating. At the end of the nine-year study, 208 participants had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and they were much more likely to be in the category of participants who preferred the most charred meat in their diets. The researchers concluded that those in the study who preferred very well-done steak were almost 60% more likely to get pancreatic cancer than those who preferred steak less well-done or who did not eat steak at all.


Early Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms May Cause Dietary Changes

In another recent study,2 researchers studying a link between a high-carbohydrate diet and risk of pancreatic cancer corroborated a similar link found in previous studies, but they also discovered a new, more complicated factor in the connection. They found that people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer may have altered their diets to include more carbohydrates and fewer fatty foods because of early symptoms of the as-yet undiagnosed cancer – such as a variety of gastrointestinal problems like nausea and dyspepsia. Carbohydrates are easier to digest than fatty foods, so people with uncomfortable gastrointestinal symptoms may alter their diets in an effort to relieve their symptoms. Previous studies suggested a causal link between a high-carbohydrate diet and the development of pancreatic cancer, but this new study suggests that the high-carbohydrate diet may itself be a result of a person’s response to symptoms of existing, although undiagnosed, pancreatic cancer.


Slow Growing Tumours

Pancreatic cancer can take a long time to develop and there are no effective methods for diagnosing the disease in its early stages. A study recently published in the journal, Nature,3 found that it could take a decade before cancer-causing mutations develop into cancer cells, and even longer for those to become sizeable tumours. It is important for researchers to develop better early-detection methods, which might include imaging technology capable of detecting very small tumours, as well as blood tests that could screen for known genetic markers related to pancreatic cancer.

First published in the Inside Tract® newsletter issue 177 – 2011
1. Reuters. Burned meat linked to pancreatic cancer. Available at Accessed 2011-01-10.
2. Meinhold CL et al. Available Carbohydrates, Glycemic Load, and Pancreatic Cancer. Am J Epidemiol. 2010;171:1194-1182.
3. Iacobuzio-Donahue C et al. Distant metastasis occurs late during the genetic evolution of pancreatic cancer. Nature. 2010;467:1114-1119.