Nutrients for Pancreatic Cancer?

Q My mother has pancreatic cancer and has been given a poor prognosis. Is there anything in the nutritional realm that might be of help?

MARTHA, Newport, RI

A My mother died of pancreatic cancer, and she really went fast, so I’m sympathetic to say the least. Pancreatic cancer is a malignant neoplasm of the pancreas, and here in the U.S. the toll is quite large, with estimated new cancers and deaths for 2010 estimated to be 43,140 and 36,800, respectively.1 The prognosis is relatively poor but has improved in recent years, so that now the three-year survival rate is about thirty percent. Sadly, however, only 1 out of 20 diagnosed with it is still alive five years later. Complete remission is rare.

On the nutritional front, a recent Italian study investigated the role of 15 selected vitamins and carotenoids and 6 minerals on pancreatic cancer risk in an Italian case-control study. What they found provides support for the role of vitamins E and C, selected carotenoids, and folate for pancreatic carcinogenesis.2

Another new report has found that the antiproliferative and apoptotic effects of gemcitabine—a chemotherapeutic analog nucleoside that arrests tumor growth by blocking new nucleoside attachments, resulting in apoptosis (programmed cell death)—was significantly potentiated by mastic gum, greatly increasing apoptosis in human pancreatic cancer cell lines.3 The authors conclude that the combination may be an effective therapeutic strategy for treating pancreatic cancer.

Of course, your mother should work closely with a knowledgeable and nutritionally-considerate physician.


  1. Pancreatic Cancer — National Cancer Institute, U.S. National Institutes of Health (Accessed 25 June 2010).
  2. Bravi F, Polesel J, Bosetti C, Talamini R, Negri E, Dal Maso L, Serraino D, La Vecchia C. Dietary intake of selected micronutrients and the risk of pancreatic cancer: an Italian case-control study. Ann Oncol 2010 Jun 7. [Epub ahead of print]
  3. Huang XY, Wang HC, Yuan Z, Li A, He ML, Ai KX, Zheng Q, Qin HL. Gemcitabine combined with gum mastic causes potent growth inhibition and apoptosis of pancreatic cancer cells. Acta Pharmacol Sin 2010 Jun;31(6):741-5.

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