Cancer of the pancreas (aka pancreatic cancer) is the fourth most common type of cancer in the U.S. Cancer is any of a large group of malignant diseases characterized by an abnormal, uncontrolled growth of new cells in one of the body organs or tissues. The pancreas is a long organ behind the stomach that produces several types of hormones and helps digest food with pancreatic juices that contains enzymes.
Unlike some type of cancers (e.g., lung cancer) there are no established guidelines for how to specifically prevent pancreatic cancer. This is unfortunate given the poor prognosis that this disease typically has. There is some evidence that vitamin B can reduce the risk of pancreatic cancer when consumed in food, but not when consumed in vitamin tablet form. Some fish, such as tuna and trout, are high in B vitamins. Fish is also high in a type of “good fat” known as long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC-PUFAs). LC-PUFAs are types of “good fat” because they have many positive health benefits such as supporting normal growth, supporting the immune system, and improving brain and heart health. They may also be beneficial against cancer due to their anti-inflammatory properties (inflammation plays an important role in cancer development).
While fish intake has never been associated with decreased or increased pancreatic cancer risk, the association between types of fish and fish preparation methods and pancreatic cancer is unknown. In an upcoming research article published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, researchers from Indiana University presented the results of a study that analyzed this topic in more detail. It was a very large study, involving 66,616 adults ages 50-76 years. Subjects were followed-up for an average of 6.8 years and during that time, 151 people developed pancreatic cancer.
The researchers found (via questionnaire) that a lower incidence of pancreatic cancer was associated with non-fried (e.g., broiled, baked) fish and LC-PUFAs. Of note, frying fish significantly reduced LC-PUFAs. There are different types of LC-PUFAs and the researchers found that the association between lower pancreatic cancer and LC-PUFAs was greater for docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) than for eicosapentaenoic acid. The authors noted that this may be because DHA is better at reducing inflammation because it is more readily incorporated into tissues.
Consumption of fried fish and shellfish (e.g., shrimp, lobster, crab, oysters) was not shown to help decrease pancreatic cancer. The authors noted that chemical byproducts from frying foods may contribute to the development of pancreatic cancer and that combining non-fried fish with fried fish or shellfish would likely decrease the benefits of eating non-fried fish regarding pancreatic cancer incidence.
Suggested reading: 100 Questions & Answers About Pancreatic Cancer, 2nd ed
Reference: He K, Xun P, Brasky TM, Gammon MD, Stevens J, White E. (2013). Types of Fish Consumed and Fish Preparation Methods in Relation to Pancreatic Cancer Incidence: The VITAL Cohort Study. Am J Epidemiol. 177(2):152-60.