WEDNESDAY, April 20, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Eating large amounts of processed meats like hot dogs, sausages and cold cuts appears linked to a greater risk of pancreatic cancer, new research suggests.
A diet full of red meat or pork may also heighten the risk, the study found.
The cancer-causing effect seems to be related not to the fat or cholesterol content of the meat, but to the way it is prepared, said the study authors, who presented their findings Wednesday at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research in Anaheim, Calif.
The study is the largest of its kind to demonstrate such a link, the researchers added.
The idea that meat consumption might be tied to cancer of the pancreas isn't a new one, but previous study results have been inconsistent. Pancreatic cancer is a particularly aggressive form of the disease, and is the fourth leading cause of cancer death among men and the fifth among women in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society.
This type of cancer is relatively uncommon in other parts of the world, suggesting that something in the environment is fostering the risk among Americans, said Dr. William Nelson, who spoke at a press briefing announcing the findings, although he was not involved with the trial. Nelson is a professor of oncology, urology, pharmacology and molecular sciences at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
For this study, the researchers looked at diet and incidence of pancreatic cancer among approximately 200,000 men and women from five ethnic or racial groups: African-Americans, Japanese-Americans, Caucasians, Latinos and Native Hawaiians. All of the participants were located in either Hawaii or Los Angeles and were part of the Multiethnic Cohort Study. Volunteers filled out a questionnaire specially designed for use in this multiethnic population at the beginning of the study.
"This is the strongest epidemiology design that we have and one of the reasons is that people answer questions about their habits before they know they have a disease," Nelson said.
During an average of seven years of follow-up, 482 people developed pancreatic cancer.
Those who consumed the greatest amount of processed meat had a 67 percent increase in risk of pancreatic cancer, compared to those with the lowest intake of processed meat, according to the questionnaire.
People who ate diets heavy in pork and red meat had an increased risk of about 50 percent, the study found.
Poultry, fish, dairy products and eggs showed no association with pancreatic cancer risk, nor did overall consumption of fat or cholesterol, the researchers said.
"We found no association for total fat or cholesterol with pancreatic incidence," said Ute Nothlings, the study's lead author, who is with the University of Hawaii's Cancer Research Center. "If we break it down into fat from different sources, we find an increase in risk from fat from meat sources but not from dairy sources, which leads to the assumption that it's something in the meat that is associated with pancreatic cancer risk but it's not the fat."
The authors suggested that chemical reactions that occur during the preparation of processed meats might be responsible for the cancer link. Such reactions can yield carcinogens, including heterocyclic amines or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, the researchers said.
Although more research is needed, the study "nudges us towards a recommendation that fish and poultry, safely cooked with baking and steaming, are a reasonable dietary choice," Nelson said.
The National Cancer Institute has more on pancreatic cancer.