Women who are overweight and inactive and consume diets high in starchy foods may dramatically elevate their risk of pancreatic cancer, one of the deadliest and most difficult malignancies to treat, a team of Harvard University scientists will report Wednesday.
"What we're really talking about here is insulin's role" in the cause of pancreatic cancer, said Dr. Charles Fuchs, a gastroenterologist and cancer researcher at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas in the presence of glucose (blood sugar). It is insulin's job to lower the amount of sugar that floods the bloodstream after a meal.
Fuchs and his team targeted potatoes, white rice and white or rye bread as key culprits in the cancer-producing scenario because these foods raise the "glycemic index," the amount of sugar in the blood. The more sugar in the blood, he said, the greater the need for insulin. The hormone is capable of fueling the development of cancer cells, the researchers say.
Reporting in Wednesday's Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Fuchs and his colleagues relied on the Nurses' Health Study, a national epidemiologic analysis of 89,000 female nurses. The research team reviewed their dietary records, logging how much and what kinds of sugars they consumed.
Findings show that women with high glycemic loads were 53 percent more likely to develop pancreatic cancer than were those whose glycemic loads were lower.
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