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Do potatoes increase the risk of pancreatic cancer?

In a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, researchers conducted a prospective study to determine the link between potatoes and pancreatic cancer.

In 2008, approximately 227,000 people were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer across the globe. The causes of this cancer range from smoking—the most common cause—to genetics and diet. Foods with high glycemic indices, which cause blood sugars to spike quickly after eating, may be implicated in causing various cancers. Potatoes are one example of a food with a high glycemic index. While some studies show that potatoes are linked to various cancers, others show they have a protective effect. Researchers recently examined the relationship between potato consumption and pancreatic cancer specifically. They published their results in the British Journal of Nutrition.

Participants in the Norwegian Women and Cancer Study, the Danish Diet, Cancer and Health Study and the Northern Sweden Health and Disease Study Cohort were combined to form the HELGA study, comprised of 119,968 individuals. The ages of participants ranged from 30 to 64 years old. In each of the three studies, participants completed food frequency questionnaires about how often they ate potatoes and the methods of cooking they used to cook the potatoes (except in the Norwegian study). The researchers excluded some participants due to incomplete information, improper intake reporting, or not participating in the study follow-up.

More than half of the 114,240 participants were women (66.1%) and participants were mostly aged 52 and 53. Only 221 participants received a pancreatic cancer diagnosis during the study follow-up period. Researchers found that potato consumption was correlated with a lack of education and higher consumption of fat and processed meat, as well as an increased risk of pancreatic cancer, although this risk was not significant.

When analyzed by sex of the participants, the risk of cancer with increased potato consumption was only seen amongst women. Those with high, moderate and low potato consumption smoked and consumed fruits and vegetables at similar rates.

Unfortunately, since pancreatic cancer is rare, the number of participants diagnosed with the cancer was low despite a large number of participants. Nevertheless, based on the results there is not enough evidence to show potatoes increase the risk of pancreatic cancer.

Written by Monica Naatey-Ahumah, BSc

Reference: Asil, L.A., Braaten, T., Olsen, A., Tjønneland, A., Overvad, K., Nilsson, L.M.,…Skeie, G. (2018). Potato consumption and risk of pancreatic cancer in the HELGA cohort. British Journal of Nutrition, 119, 1408-1415.



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