Antioxidants Found to Reduce Pancreatic Cancer Risk

By Michael A. Smith, MD

Pancreatic cancer is a silent disease. This is because many times the signs and symptoms can go unnoticed until the cancer is in the advanced stage. And even when there are early signs and symptoms, they can often be vague and easily attributed to something else.

Since pancreatic cancer often lacks these early warning signs and there aren’t any effective screening tests, it’s rarely discovered early. Many times the diagnosis is not made until the cancer has spread to other areas of the body.

Unfortunately, symptoms of pancreatic cancer often do not appear until the tumor has grown large enough to interfere with the function of nearby organs or exert pressure on the spine. When early symptoms do occur, they are often vague and nonspecific. All of these symptoms can be caused by medical conditions other than pancreatic cancer.

Possible early symptoms that should be evaluated by your physician are:

  • Pain in the upper or middle abdomen
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Anorexia, weight loss and muscle loss
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes, called jaundice
In the United States, cancer of the pancreas is the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths in both men and women. In 2008, about 38,000 patients were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Almost all patients with pancreatic cancer are older than 55 years and more than 70 percent are older than 65 years.

Bottom line: Prevention is our best bet for not succumbing to this horrible disease. And there’s good news. A recent study shows that dietary antioxidants could significantly reduce your risk of developing pancreatic cancer.

EPIC Study Shows Pancreatic Cancer Risk Reduction

The researchers from University of East Anglia in the UK, studied lifestyle and dietary habits associated with pancreatic cancer. Their research included 24,000 people from the Norfolk area. All of the participants completed detailed food diaries, which are more extensive than simple food frequency questionnaires used in other population studies.1

During their follow-up, 49 people developed pancreatic cancer within 10 years. This increased to 86 people within 17 years of starting the study. The researchers than compared the people with pancreatic cancer to 4,000 healthy participants in order to identify any dietary differences.1

Here’s what they found:

  • Those in the top 25% of selenium intake had half the risk of developing pancreatic cancer than those in the lowest 25% of intake.
  • People with the highest intake of vitamins C, E and selenium were 67% less likely to develop pancreatic cancer than people with the lowest intake.
A word of caution though — one single population study using food diaries is far from conclusive. But the researchers believe that we should at least consider certain vitamins and antioxidants to be protective. More studies are definitely warranted.

What You Need to Know

Pancreatic cancer is a killer because it’s often diagnosed too late. Usually by the time someone knows they have it, it has already spread throughout the body. This is why the prognosis and outcome of treatment is so poor. Prevention is really our only hope at this time.

So, based on the results of the EPIC trial, selenium seems pretty important. Here’s a list of selenium-rich foods to consider adding into your diet:

  • Brazil Nuts
  • Sunflower Seeds
  • Fish (tuna, halibut, sardines, flounder, salmon)
  • Shellfish (oysters, mussels, shrimp, clams, scallops)
  • Meat (beef, liver, lamb, pork)
  • Poultry (chicken, turkey) and Eggs
  • Mushrooms (button, crimini, shiitake)
  • Grains (wheat germ, barley, brown rice, oats)
  • Onions & Garlic
Keep in mind that the upper limit of selenium intake is around 600 to 800 mcg per day — that includes both dietary and supplement sources.

So, if you plan on supplementing with selenium, have your doctor check a liver function test first and periodically re-check to make sure your liver is unaffected by higher doses.


  1. Gut 23 July 2012. Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1136/gutjnl-2011-301908 (


antioxidants in the diet said...

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Stephen Knows Cancer said...

Hey, I just wanted to thank you for this post! In all honesty, pancreatic cancer gets very little exposure compared to say breast cancer or even prostate cancer, and yet the five-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer is only 6%! I think that since it is pancreatic cancer awareness month, it is important to spread the word about new advancements in pancreatic cancer treatments and diagnosis. That is why, in honor of this month, I wanted to share a brand new infographic on pancreatic cancer:

LifeExtension said...

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