06/30/2009 - Articles

Overweight is linked to pancreatic cancer

By: Susan Aldridge, medical journalist, PhD


Younger adults who are overweight or obese are more likely to develop pancreatic cancer, according to a new study. Obesity among older adults is found to decrease survival chances.


Overweight and obesity are found to be risk factors in pancreatic cancer, according to a study from the University of Texas. For younger people, excess weight predisposed towards the disease. Among older age groups, obesity decreased survival chances – already low – still further.


Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer death in the United States. Overweight and obesity have, of course, increased dramatically in recent years and there is some evidence that excess weight could be a risk factor in pancreatic cancer. But till now there has been no study that has looked at the influence weight can have on the risk of developing, and surviving, pancreatic cancer over the whole life span.

What was done

Researchers at University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center carried out a study with 841 patients with pancreatic cancer and 754 health controls. Weight histories were taken, starting from age 14-19 and every ten years prior to recruitment in the study.

What was found

Those who were overweight from age 14 to 39 and those who were obese from age 20 to 39 were at increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer, whether or not they had diabetes. The link was stronger among men than women. It was also stronger for smokers and ex-smokers than for never-smokers. Among smokers/ex-smokers 21% of pancreatic cancer cases were linked to overweight and the corresponding figure for the non-smokers was 10%. Moreover, those who were overweight or obese from age 20 to 49 had an earlier age of onset of pancreatic cancer – 64 years for those of normal weight, 61 years for those who were overweight and 59 years for those who were obese. And those who were overweight or obese between the ages of 30 and 79 had a reduced overall survival from pancreatic cancer, regardless of disease status.

What this study means

Pancreatic cancer is difficult to treat and has a poor survival rate. Not keeping to a healthy weight is now shown to be a potent risk factor in both developing and in the outcome of this difficult disease.


Li D, Morris JS et al Body mass index and risk, age of onset, and survival in patients with pancreatic cancer Journal of the American Medical Association June 24 2009;301: 2553-2562

Created on: 06/30/2009
Reviewed on: 06/30/2009

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