The most fatal of all cancers is linked today for the first time with the consumption of processed meat.
A daily bacon sandwich or a single sausage, equivalent to an average serving of 50 grams, is associated with a 19 per cent increase in risk of pancreatic cancer, researchers say.
The finding adds to evidence from earlier studies that processed meat – including ham, bacon and sausages – increases the incidence of cancer of the bowel. Pancreatic cancer affects only one in 77 men and one in 79 women during their lifetime. But it has among the poorest survival rates of any cancer with almost 95 per cent of patients dying within five years.
"Thus identification of risk factors for this cancer is of great public health importance," researchers from the Karolinska Institute, in Sweden, said.
They analysed 11 studies involving over 6,000 people with pancreatic cancer. The results showed red meat consumption also increased the risk of the cancer for men by 29 per cent for each daily serving of 120 grams. But there was no significant increase in risk for women, raising doubts about the robustness of the finding.
But the link with processed meat is "biologically plausible", the researchers say in the British Journal of Cancer. Nitrites used to preserve processed meats are "potent carcinogens" which have been shown to cause pancreatic cancer in animals.
About 8,090 people were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the UK in 2008, and around 7,780 people died.
Dr Rachel Thompson, deputy head of science at the World Cancer Research Fund, said: "WCRF recommends limiting intake of red meat to 500g cooked weight a week and avoiding processed meat altogether."
Sara Hiom, director of information at Cancer Research UK, said: "The jury is still out as to whether meat is a definite risk factor for pancreatic cancer and more large studies are needed. But this new analysis suggests processed meat may be playing a role."