Hereditary factors, like having two or more first-degree relatives with the disease or carrying genetic (inherited) mutations like BRCA 1 and 2, can increase the chance of getting pancreatic cancer.
Additionally, lifestyle choices, like smoking, poor diet and obesity, are linked with increased pancreatic cancer risk.
But there are ways to help combat the risks.
February is Cancer Prevention Month, and with the start of a new year comes the promise of a fresh outlook on your health. While you can start a good habit any day of the year, now is the perfect time to set up positive changes to your health that can have long-lasting benefits.
Go green (and red and orange and purple)
Research shows fruits and vegetables pack a powerful punch when it comes to cancer prevention.
Dark, leafy greens like spinach are loaded with cancer-fighting Vitamin C and beta carotene. Kale ups the ante because it has the added benefit of kaempferol, a flavonoid that has shown to slow the growth of pancreatic cancer cells in laboratory studies.
Compounds found in the cruciferous vegetable category (say that five times fast) like cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli have also been shown to reduce the growth and spread of cancer cells in lab studies.
Onions don’t just add rich flavors to dishes. The bulb is comprised of flavonoids, which may combat cancer cells.
And purple isn’t just the official color of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN). Its violet vibrancy is also found in the produce section of your grocery store with cancer-fighting fruits and veggies like eggplant, plums and grapes.
Pro tip: Check out our weekly installment of the Friday Fix for more stories on healthy eating.
Decrease alcohol use
Numerous studies have shown an association between alcohol use and cancers of the breast, liver and yes, even pancreas. Not only does alcohol – like beer, wine and liquor – carry the possibility of containing carcinogens introduced during production and fermentation, but the chemical reactions that occur when your body metabolizes it can also increase your chances of getting cancer.
Most experts argue that the occasional drink is fine, but excessive alcohol use can be unsafe to your health.
So how many drinks are a reasonable amount? Chat with your doctor or dietitian to help set a weekly limit.
Check in with your doctor
On that note, set up an annual physical with a primary care physician. During your appointment, your doctor will ask you questions about your family history and how you are feeling.
These questions can help you better understand your health pitfalls and how to improve on them. He or she may also take blood or urine samples to look for diseases or set a benchmark.
Attending yearly appointments will allow your physician to see trends and even preemptively spot illness.
Stop using all tobacco products
You’ve heard the stories – smoking can cause lung, mouth and throat cancers; but did you know that smoking tobacco is also linked to about 20% of pancreatic cancer cases?
Additionally, pancreatic cancer patients who smoke face a 40% increased risk of dying as compared to those who have never smoked.
That may sound daunting, but there is a silver lining.
“The encouraging finding was that former smokers’ risk of dying from pancreatic cancer was essentially the same as never-smokers,” said Victoria Manax Rutson, MD, chief medical officer for PanCAN.
“This provides further evidence that smoking cessation could have a very positive impact on people’s health – especially for those who are already at higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer.”
Remember, while cigarette smoking gets most of the attention, all forms of tobacco use are dangerous. Make the commitment to kick all tobacco use, from chewing tobacco to smoking the occasional cigar.
Take actual steps toward health
There is substantial evidence that an increase in physical activity can reduce the risk of cancer. The reasons: exercise reduces inflammation, helps improve immune function by lowering hormones like cortisol and adrenaline and can prevent the harmful health effects of obesity.
Small daily steps, like taking the stairs or adding a walk on your lunch break can make a big difference when spread over the next 365 days.
Pro tip: For added motivation, consider signing up for a PurpleStride walk/run event near you.
It’s helpful to check with your doctor before implementing these guidelines or another new health regimen.