Pancreatic cancer is more deadly in patients who were overweight before the age of 50, new research suggests.
American Cancer Society scientists discovered that a BMI of 30 or higher raises the risks that pancreatic cancer will kill a patient by 25 percent.
Current therories suggest that the inflammation that comes with excess weight may encourage cells to mutate and become cancerous.
Panreatic cancer has been on the rise in recent years – striking Alex Trebek and claiming Ella Fitzgerald’s life – bewildering doctors as a primary risk factor, smoking, declines, but the new study suggests that obesity may be to blame.
New research suggests that panreatic cancer is 25 percent more deadly in people who gain excesss weight before age 50 – and the earlier people put on pounds, the worse their odds
Pancreatic cancer is still considered a rare form, but rates have been increasing in recent years.
‘We’ve been puzzled by that increase because smoking—a major risk factor for pancreatic cancer—is declining,’ says Dr Eric Jacobs, scientific director at the American Cancer Society, and co-author of the new study.
Though pancreatic is one of the more poorly understood forms of cancer, smoking is a major, known risk factor.
Yet rates of pancreatic cancer have continued to rise even as smoking has reached a record low in the US, leaving scientists perplexed and in search of some other change that could be driving the trend.
Now, scientists may have found a possible explanation: the obesity epidemic.
Excess body weight is a major risk factor for all manner of diseases, including six forms of cancer – uterine, esophageal, stomach, kidney, liver, certain brain tumors, pancreatic and colorectal cancers and multiple myeloma.
Research also suggests that being overweight may make these cancers more deadly and, even if these people survive cancer, they will likely have a poorer quality of life going forward.
People who are overweight or obese are as much as 150 percent more likely to develop pancreatic cancer at some point in their lives than those who are a normal weight.
But obesity is not thought to be a cause of cancer, just a risk factor.
Smoking, on the other hand, has been directly blamed for an estimated quarter of pancreatic cancer cases.
And yet, as the number of Americans who smoke has fallen by 65 percent since 1965, therate of pancreatic cancer has risen 17.4 percent since 1999.
The new study suggests that the country’s trend toward obesity could account fof the mismatch.
‘Increased weight in the US population is a likely suspect, but previous studies have indicated that excess weight is linked with only a relatively small increase in risk, which doesn’t look large enough to fully explain recent increases in pancreatic cancer rates,’ says Dr Jacobs.
But his new study changes that, by looking at excess weight people gain when they are younger.
Dr Jacobs and his team analyzed data on 963,317 people without a history of cancer, starting in 1982, to see if those who were overweight before age 50 would have higher odds of developing pancreatic cancer.
Between then and 2014, 8,354 of the group died of pancreatic cancer.
And those who were overweight earlier in life were more likely to be among the fatalities, even if they weren’t mortally obese.
For example, a 5’7″ person who had been 32 lbs overweight between the ages of 30 and 49 was at a 25 percent greater risk of dying of pancreatic cancer than someone who was a healthy weight at that age.
If that same person was slender before 50, but went 32lbs overweight between ages 50 and 59, their death risk increased by 19 percent, and by 14 percent for those who were overweight between 60 and 69.
So the earlier in life someone gained the extra pounds, the more the weight gain increased their risks of dying from the hard-to-catch disease.
Based on these results, Dr Jacobs estimated that excess weight will be the driving factor in 28 percent of pancreatic cancer deaths for people born between 1970 and 1974.
By contrast, he estimates that just 15 of pancreatic deaths for people born in the 1930s, when obesity was far less common.
Being overweight already raises the risk that a person will develop cancer in general – and pancreatic cancer in particular – by about 20 percent, so the new study’s findings underscore the critical importance of a healthy weight, especially earlier in life.
‘Our results strongly suggest that to stop and eventually reverse recent increases in pancreatic cancer rates, we will need to do better in preventing excess weight gain in children and younger adults, an achievement which would help prevent many other diseases as well,’ Dr Jacobs said.