A new study finds that heavy consumption of hot dogs, sausages and luncheon meats may increase the risk of pancreatic cancer. Processed meats have been linked to pancreatic cancer in previous studies but the results were not as consistent as in the latest study.

Results of the large multiethnic study were reported at the 96th Annual Meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research.

The researchers found that those who were heavy consumers of processed meats had a 67 percent higher risk of pancreatic cancer, after adjusting for age, smoking status, history of diabetes, familial history of pancreatic cancer and ethnicity.

A diet rich in pork and red meat also increased pancreatic cancer risk by about 50 percent, compared to the diets of those who ate less meat.

Consumption of poultry, fish, dairy products and eggs showed no link to pancreatic cancer risk, nor did overall intake of total fat, saturated fat, or cholesterol.

The researchers said the chemical reactions that occur during the preparation of processed meats might be responsible for the association. Such reactions can yield carcinogens including heterocyclic amines or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

"The results suggest that carcinogenic substances related to meat preparation, rather than their inherent fat or cholesterol content, might be responsible for the association," said Ute Nthlings, DrPH, MSE, the study's lead investigator from the Cancer Research Center at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu.

Nothlings said the study was "the largest of its kind to demonstrate a link between high consumption of processed meats over long periods of time and pancreatic cancer ... The sample size allowed us to obtain statistically significant risk-estimates that support this hypothesis."

The American Association for Cancer Research is a professional society of more than 24,000 laboratory, translational, and clinical scientists engaged in all areas of cancer research in the United States and in more than 60 other countries.

Cancer of the pancreas is the fifth leading cause of cancer death in the United States. About 28,000 Americans die from the disease each year. It is not only common, but also extremely difficult to treat.

Surgical removal of the cancer is currently the only chance for a cure for patients with cancer of the pancreas. Unfortunately, many cancers of the pancreas are too far advanced to be treated surgically at the time of diagnosis. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are the main treatments offered to patients whose entire tumor cannot be removed surgically

Sodium Nitrite

Sodium nitrite, a chemical added to processed meat products, is responsible for the increased risk of pancreatic cancer, says nutritionist Mike Adams.

While the latest study did not specifically name sodium nitrite as the cause of the heightened cancer risk, the huge spike in toxicity and cancer risk can only be explained by something added during meat processing, said Adams, author of "Grocery Warning," a manual that teaches consumers how to avoid foods that promote chronic disease.

"We've known for years that sodium nitrite consumption leads to leukemia in children and brain tumors in infants," explained Adams. "Now we have a large-scale study of nearly 200,000 people that provides solid evidence of the link between processed meats and pancreatic cancer." The ingredient also promotes colorectal cancer as it passes through the digestive tract.

If sodium nitrite is so dangerous, why do food producers continue using it? The chemical is added primarily as a color fixer that turns meats a reddish, fresh-looking color that appeals to consumers, Adams said. Packaged meats like hot dogs would normally appear a putrid gray, but with enough sodium nitrite added, the meats can seem visually fresh even if they've been on the shelves for months.

"Food producers use sodium nitrite for marketing reasons," says Adams. "It makes their food products look visually appealing, even while that very same ingredient promotes cancer when consumed." The USDA once tried to ban sodium nitrite, but was unsuccessful due to political influence and lobbying efforts of meat processing companies.