About UCSF Search UCSF UCSF Medical Center

High-Vegetable Diet Linked to Protection Against Pancreatic Cancer

By Wallace Ravven, UCSF News Services | September 15, 2005

In one of the largest studies of its kind, UCSF researchers have found that eating lots of fruits and vegetables -- particularly vegetables -- is associated with about a 50 percent reduction in the risk of developing pancreatic cancer. Pancreatic cancer is difficult to diagnose and remains largely untreatable. It kills about 30,000 people in the U.S. each year and has a five-year survival under four percent.

The vegetables most strongly associated with increased protection were onions, garlic, beans, yellow vegetables (such as carrots, yams, sweet potatoes, corn and yellow squash), dark leafy vegetables and cruciferous vegetables. Light-green vegetables, tomatoes and tomato products showed weaker protective benefits.

Fruits were found to be protective but significantly less so than vegetables, with citrus fruits and citrus juices most protective.

The 50 percent reduced risk was associated with eating at last five servings per day of the protective vegetables or vegetables and fruit, compared to those who ate two servings a day or less. And eating nine servings per day of vegetables and fruit combined also was associated with about a 50 percent reduced pancreatic cancer risk compared with eating less than five servings per day. A serving is considered to be about a half cup of cooked vegetables, two cups of leafy salad or one medium-sized piece of fruit.

The study was based on in-person interviews of 2,233 San Francisco Bay Area residents: 532 pancreatic cancer patients and more than 1,700 randomly selected "controls." Control group participants did not have pancreatic cancer but were of a similar age distribution and similar male to female ratio as the pancreatic cancer patients. Participants were asked about their fruit and vegetable consumption for the one-year period prior to the interview, as well as other questions about diet, smoking, occupation and other factors.

The study findings regarding fruit and vegetable consumption are being published in the September issue of the journal Cancer, Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention.

"Pancreatic cancer is not nearly as common as breast or lung cancer, but its diagnosis and treatment are particularly difficult," said Elizabeth A. Holly, PhD, UCSF professor of epidemiology and biostatistics and senior author of the study. "Finding strong confirmation that simple life choices can provide significant protection from pancreatic cancer may be one of the most practical ways to reduce the incidence of this dreadful disease."

Read more at Wallace Ravven, UCSF News Services