Smoking may increase risk of pancreatic cancer: study

A new study finds that nicotine increases the risk of developing pancreatic cancer.

Bad news for smokers who think their habit only raises their risk of lung cancer and heart disease: A new study has found that nicotine increases the risk of developing pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatic cancer has one of the lowest relative survival ratios, with only six per cent of patients living five years after diagnosis, according to the Canadian Cancer Society.

In their study, researchers at the Kimmel Cancer Center at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia  have found that nicotine increases the production of a protein called osteopontin.

Osteopontin, which is found in the body in blood plasma, synovial fluid (found in synovial joints such as the wrist and elbow) and in breast milk has been proven to exist in higher levels in people with pancreatic cancer. When too much of the protein exists in the body, it can make cancer cells more likely to spread or metastasize.

In the study, researchers exposed rats to cigarette smoke and measured how much osteopontin they produced in their pancreas and how much nicotine was in their bloodstream.

They found that the more the rats "smoked," the higher the level of nicotine in their blood and the greater the amount of osteopontin in their pancreas.

When they exposed extracted pancreatic cancer cells to nicotine, the production of osteopontin also increased.

"We are now proposing that perhaps blocking osteopontin can interfere with the progression of pancreatic cancer and other cancers," said Hwyda Arafat, associate professor of surgery at Jefferson Medical College, in a release.

She said her research team would like to study the effect the protein has on pancreatic cells in more detail.

The study's findings were presented Sunday at the Annual Meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research.