ROCKVILLE, MARYLAND. Although pancreatic cancer is relatively rare (an estimated 29,700 cases in the US in 2002) it is almost always fatal with a 5-year survival rate of only 4 per cent. Cigarette smoking, obesity, and diabetes increase the risk of pancreatic cancer. Researchers at the Harvard Medical School and the National Cancer Institute now report that a high intake of fructose (found in juices and soft drinks) and a diet with a high glycemic load are potent risk factors for pancreatic cancer in sedentary, overweight women. The glycemic load of a meal is the product of the amount of available carbohydrate in a standard serving of the food and the glycemic index of the food (divided by 100). Recent research has shown that a high glycemic load diet increases the risk of heart disease and diabetes.
The researchers evaluated the results of the Nurses' Health Study begun in 1980 and found that 180 nurses
had developed pancreatic cancer over an 18-year follow-up period. They found that women with a high
fructose intake (in 1980) had a 57 per cent increased risk of pancreatic cancer while women with a high
glycemic load diet had a 53 per cent increased risk. None of these observed increases were statistically
significant. However, when the analysis was limited to sedentary, overweight (BMI equal to or greater than
25) women a clear, statistically significant association was found. Nurses with a high fructose intake
(greater than 33 grams/day) had 3 times the risk of developing pancreatic cancer than did nurses with a low
intake (less than 17 grams/day). Similarly nurses with a high glycemic load diet (greater than 100/day*) had
a 2.7 greater risk than did nurses with a low glycemic load diet (less than 70/day*). The researchers
conclude that their findings support the hypothesis that high insulin levels and abnormal glucose metabolism
promotes pancreatic cancer.