(HealthDay News) — A healthy diet may protect against pancreatic cancer, according to a study published online Aug. 15 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Hannah Arem, Ph.D., from the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Md., and colleagues calculated the Healthy Eating Index 2005 (HEI-2005) score for 537,218 men and women participating in the National Institutes of Health-American Association of Retired Persons Diet and Health Study. Food frequency questionnaires were returned in 1995 and 1996.

The researchers found that there were 2,383 incident, exocrine pancreatic cancer cases (median of 10.5 years of follow-up). There was a reduced risk of pancreatic cancer (hazard ratio, 0.85) when comparing participants who met the most dietary guidelines (Q5) with those who met the fewest guidelines (Q1).

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There was a significant interaction by body mass index, with a the association stronger in overweight or obese men compared to normal-weight men (hazard ratio of 0.72 comparing Q5 versus Q1 in overweight/obese men [body mass index ≥25 kg/m²]). There was no association among normal-weight men.

“Our findings support the hypothesis that consuming a high-quality diet, as scored by the HEI-2005, may reduce the risk of pancreatic cancer,” the authors write.