The news is out. What many of us have assumed for years got a new batch of science to back it up: red meat and dairy products have been associated with an increased risk of cancer, specifically, pancreatic cancer. In a recent study published in the internationally acclaimed Journal of the National Cancer Institute, researchers examined the association between the intake of red meat and dairy products and pancreatic cancer by analyzing a cohort of over 500,000 people from the National Institutes of Health–AARP Diet and Health Study. Participants completed a food frequency questionnaire in 1995 and 1996 and were followed prospectively for an average of 6 years to track a variety of health outcomes, including pancreatic cancer.
Men and women who consumed high amounts of total fats had 53 percent and 23 percent higher relative rates of pancreatic cancer, respectively, compared with men and women who had the lowest fat consumption. Participants who consumed high amounts of saturated fats had 36 percent higher relative rates of pancreatic cancer compared with those who consumed low amounts.
“We observed positive associations between pancreatic cancer and intakes of total, saturated, and monounsaturated fat overall, particularly from red meat and dairy food sources. We did not observe any consistent association with polyunsaturated or fat from plant food sources,” the authors write. “Altogether, these results suggest a role for animal fat in pancreatic carcinogenesis.”
In an accompanying editorial, Brian M. Wolpin, M.D., MPH, of the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston and Meir J. Stampfer, M.D., DrPH, of the Harvard School of Public Health, call the study well-performed and a good addition to the understanding of pancreatic cancer. They do note, however, that there is insufficient epidemiological and laboratory evidence to confirm the importance of animal fats or even that meat is the important factor, as opposed to other dietary or lifestyle preferences associated with meat consumption.