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Trace elements associated with pancreatic cancer risk

2 January 2012

A new study has found that high levels of the trace elements nickel and selenium may lower the risk of developing the most common type of pancreatic cancer.

A new study has found that high levels of the trace elements nickel and selenium may lower the risk of developing the most common type of pancreatic cancer, whereas high levels of lead, arsenic, and cadmium could boost the likelihood of developing the disease. These findings held true even after taking account of other known risk factors, such as diabetes, overweight, and smoking.

The study looked at nail samples of 118 patients with exocrine pancreatic cancer and 399 patients with other diagnoses across several hospitals in Spain. Nails, and particularly toe nails, are considered reliable indicators of trace element levels, rather than dietary assessment, and were analysed using plasma mass spectrometry.

Researchers reported in the journal Gut, published online 19 December, that the patients with the highest levels of arsenic were at double the risk for pancreatic cancer, compared with those with the lowest concentrations. Those with high levels of cadmium were three times more likely to have pancreatic cancer, while those with the highest levels of lead were six times more likely.

On the other hand, those with the highest levels of nickel and selenium were between 33% and 95% less likely to have the disease compared with those with the lowest levels.

Dr Núria Malats, senior researcher of the new study from the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre, said that "These novel findings, if replicated in independent studies, would point to an important role of trace elements in pancreatic carcinogenesis."

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