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Folic acid protects against pancreatic cancer

BETHESDA, MARYLAND. Although pancreatic cancer accounts for only 2 per cent of all cancers worldwide it is the fifth leading cause of cancer deaths in the US. The five-year survival rate is less than 5 per cent. Researchers at the National Cancer Institute and the Finnish National Public Health Institute now report that an adequate folic acid intake can materially reduce the risk of developing the cancer. Their study included over 27,000 healthy male smokers aged 50 to 69 years when enrolled in 1985. Thirteen years later 157 of the men had developed cancer of the pancreas. A review of dietary records revealed that the men with a daily dietary folate intake of more than 373 micrograms/day had half the risk of pancreatic cancer than did the men with an intake of less than 280 micrograms/day. This significant risk reduction held true even after adjusting for other potential risk factors. As expected, the most serious risk factor was smoking. Men who smoked more than 25 cigarettes a day had an 82 per cent higher risk than men who smoked less than 14 a day. The researchers found no correlation between the risk of pancreatic cancer and alcohol consumption or dietary intake of methionine, vitamin B6 or vitamin B12.

Supplementing with folic acid seemed to have a slightly negative effect. The researchers point out that the supplement takers had significantly more health and alcohol-related problems than did the non-takers and that the number of supplement takers was too small to draw statistically significant conclusions. They caution that the issue could be clouded by earlier findings from animal experiments that, while folic acid supplementation may be effective in preventing cancer from starting, it may actually enhance tumor development at a later stage.
Stolzenberg-Solomon, Rachael Z., et al. Dietary and other methyl-group availability factors and pancreatic cancer risk in a cohort of male smokers. American Journal of Epidemiology, Vol. 153, April 1, 2001, pp. 680-87 [51 references]

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