The risk of contracting pancreatic cancer may be reduced by high levels of the trace elements selenium and nickel, according to a new study.
Researchers based in the United States and Spain, who published their study in the journal Gut, said the findings may have an impact on future clinical practice and selenium intake could be tested in clinical trials as a preventative measure for people at high risk of pancreatic cancer.
They assessed 12 trace element levels in the toenails of 118 patients with pancreatic cancer and compared them with 399 hospital patients free of cancer. Levels of certain trace elements were found to be significantly higher or lower among the cancer patients than among those in the comparison group.
They said the two elements, which are found in certain foods, appear to offer a protective effect against pancreatic cancer, which is frequently diagnosed at an advanced stage.
It kills 80% of people in less than a year and only 5% of patients are still alive five years after diagnosis.
The latest study focused on patients with the most common form of the disease, exocrine pancreatic cancer.
It found high levels of selenium and nickel could lower the risk - whereas high levels of lead, arsenic and cadmium could boost the chances of developing the disease.
Nickel influences the amount of iron the body can absorb from food and is thought to be important in making red blood cells. Good food sources include lentils, oats and nuts.
Selenium plays an important role in immune system function and reproduction and also helps prevent damage to cells and tissues. Good food sources include Brazil nuts, bread, fish, meat and eggs.
The Department of Health believes people should be able to get enough of these elements from their diet.