Why a mushroom omelette could cut pancreatic cancer risk – selenium and nickel-rich diet has a protective effect
Condition kills 80 per cent of sufferers in less than a year after diagnosis
High levels of the trace elements selenium and nickel may help cut the risk of deadly pancreatic cancer, according to new research.
The elements, which are found in certain foods, appear to offer a protective effect against the disease.
Pancreatic cancer is frequently diagnosed at an advanced stage and kills 80 per cent of people in under a year. Only five per cent of patients are still alive five years after diagnosis.
Two researchers study pancreatic islet cells up close: The elements of selenium and nickel appear to have a protective effect against the condition
The latest study, published in the journal Gut, focused on patients with exocrine pancreatic cancer, the most common form of the disease.
Researchers found high levels of selenium and nickel could lower the risk whereas high levels of lead, arsenic and cadmium could boost the chances of developing the disease.
Nickel influences the amount of iron the body can absorb from food and is thought to be important in making red blood cells.
Good food sources include lentils, oats and nuts.
Selenium plays an important role in immune system function and reproduction and also helps prevent damage to cells and tissues.
Good food sources include Brazil nuts, bread, fish, meat and eggs.
According to the Department of Health, people should be able to get enough of these elements from their diet.
In today”s research, experts assessed 12 trace element levels in the toenails of 118 patients with pancreatic cancer and compared them with 399 hospital patients without cancer.
Levels of certain trace elements were found to be significantly higher or lower among the cancer patients than among those in the comparison group.
Actor Patrick Swayze was diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer in late January 2008. He died in September 2009
Patients with the highest levels of arsenic and cadmium in their nails were between two and 3.5 times more likely to have pancreatic cancer than those with the lowest levels.
And those with the highest levels of lead were more than six times as likely to have the disease.
But those with the highest levels of nickel and selenium were between 33 per cent and 95 per cent less likely to have the disease compared with those with the lowest levels.
Foods rich in nickel include asparagus, beans, mushrooms, pears, peas and tea. Foods rich in selenium include brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, eggs and oily fish like tuna and sardines.
Tobacco contains cadmium, an element that has previously been associated with pancreatic cancer. Studies have also linked arsenic to pancreatic cancer.
Overall, smoking is thought to account for around a third of all cases of pancreatic cancer.
The experts, from the US and Spain, said the findings may have an impact on clinical practice in future.
Selenium intake could be tested in clinical trials as a preventative measure for people at high risk of pancreatic cancer, they said.
They added: “Our results support an increased risk of pancreatic cancer associated with higher levels of cadmium, arsenic and lead, as well as an inverse association with higher levels of selenium and nickel.
“These novel findings, if replicated in independent studies, would point to an important role of trace elements in pancreatic carcinogenesis.”
Eggs are rich in selenium while mushrooms are rich in nickel
Alex Ford, chief executive of Pancreatic Cancer UK, said: “With 7,600 people being newly diagnosed with pancreatic cancer every year, Pancreatic Cancer UK welcomes the publication of these findings, which show that these trace elements might play an important role in the development of pancreatic cancer.
“We hope that the results will encourage the research community to further investigate the role of these and other trace elements with a view to testing whether they could be used in some way to help prevent the development of pancreatic cancer in people who have a high risk of developing the disease.”
Professor Alan Boobis, from the department of medicine at Imperial College London, said: “Whilst this paper raises some interesting hypotheses regarding the role of trace metals in pancreatic cancer, it is too early to determine where the concern lies.”
He said the results would need to be confirmed again in other studies.
“The decrease in risk from nickel is unexpected and again points to the need for additional information.”