Doctor’s Tip: How to lower risk for cancer of the pancreas

Dr. Greg Feinsinger
Doctor's Tip
Dr. Greg Feinsinger.

The pancreas is a large gland located behind the stomach. It secretes insulin, necessary for blood sugar control, directly into the blood stream. It also secretes digestive juices into the small intestine. About 64,000 Americans are expected to be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2023 and 50,550 are expected to die from it this year.

There is no way to screen for pancreatic cancer. It’s difficult to diagnose early and treat successfully. Few patients diagnosed with it survive more than a year. Therefore, it’s particularly important to do what you can to prevent it.

Following are tips to help prevent pancreatic cancer, primarily taken from Dr. Michael Greger’s book “How Not to Die” and his website

· Don’t smoke — about 20% of cases of pancreatic cancer are related to smoking.

· Maintain ideal body weight, since obesity is a risk factor. Check your height and weight and google your BMI to find out if you’re overweight.

· Avoid heavy drinking, which is another risk factor. Having more than one drink a day for women and two for men is considered unhealthy — one drink being defined as four ounces of wine, 12 oz of beer, or one oz of hard alcohol.

· Avoid fat from animal products. Dr. Greger notes that older studies have had conflicting results, but a more recent NIH-AARP study showed that “the consumption of fat from all animal sources was significantly associated with pancreatic cancer risk, but no correlation was found with consumption of plant fats.” This means that meat including poultry, seafood, eggs, and all dairy products including cheese and yogurt should be avoided to help reduce risk. Instead, get the fat you need from nuts, seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, flax, chia, hemp), olives and avocados.

· To avoid pancreatic cancer, it’s particularly important that you avoid chicken. In a study of 30,000 poultry workers, their risk of pancreatic cancer was found to be nine times the risk in the general population. This is thought to be due to cancer-causing poultry viruses that can be transmitted to humans. Regarding eating chicken, a large European study found a 72% increase in pancreatic cancer for every 50 grams of chicken eaten daily (50 grams is about 1/4th of a chicken breast).

· Eat 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoons of turmeric daily, which in the lab has been shown to reverse early cancerous changes in pancreatic cells. Larger doses of turmeric taken daily have been shown to be as effective as chemotherapy in delaying progression of pancreatic cancer.

· Avoid food with a high glycemic index (that raises blood sugar rapidly), such as sugary beverages and “junk food.” In his book “Fast Food Genocide,” Dr. Joel Fuhrman notes that these ultra- processed foods are linked to several types of cancer, including pancreatic.

· Avoid processed meat, such as sausage, lunch meat, bacon and ham. Dr. Fuhrman notes that “increased consumption of processed meat, and meats cooked with typical fast food cooking techniques, correlates positively with the likelihood of developing… pancreatic… cancer.” Carcinogens such as heterocyclic amines are formed when muscle meat “including beef, pork, fish, and poultry” is cooked at high temperatures, such as pan frying and grilling.

· Eat cruciferous vegetables daily such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, Bok choy, and brussels sprouts, which have potent cancer-fighting properties. Dr. Fuhrman cites a study showing that one or more servings of cabbage a week reduced risk of pancreatic cancer by 38%.

Another risk factor for developing pancreatic cancer is family history. So, if you have that risk factor it’s particularly important that you pay attention to the other ones. Of course, following these tips are not a guarantee, but it will stack the deck in your favor.

Dr. Feinsinger is a retired family physician with special interest in disease prevention and reversal through nutrition. Free services through Center For Prevention and The People’s Clinic include: one-hour consultations, shop-with-a-doc at Carbondale City Market and cooking classes. Call 970-379-5718 for appointment or email

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