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Pancreatic Cancer Health Center

Obesity Linked to Pancreatic Cancer

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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD

Aug. 21, 2001 -- Score another one for moderate daily exercise. This time it appears to significantly diminish the risk that obese people will get one of the most deadly cancers.

Cancer of the pancreas is the fifth-leading cause of cancer death in the U.S., and less than 5% of people who get the disease live past five years. But now, for the first time, researchers believe they have found lifestyle factors other than cigarette smoking that may influence risk for the disease.

Obesity, already associated with so many health risks, is a culprit again, appearing to significantly increase the chance of getting pancreatic cancer, according to data from two large national studies reported in the Aug. 22 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

But author Dominique Michaud, ScD, with the National Cancer Institute, says that analysis of both studies also shows that moderate daily exercise such as walking or hiking can decrease the risk.

"People who are obese can benefit from doing some moderate activity and reduce their excess risk of pancreatic cancer," she tells WebMD. "Even walking 30 minutes a day can help."

The findings were drawn from analysis of two large national studies -- the Health Professionals Follow-up Study and the Nurses' Health Study -- which followed more than 46,000 men and 117,000 women for up to 20 years.

All of the men and women were free of cancer at the time the studies began, but during the follow-up period, 350 cases of pancreatic cancer were documented. Michaud and colleagues then compared body weight and height among those who got pancreatic cancer and those who did not.

Specifically, Michaud and colleagues used a scoring system known as body mass index, or BMI, which links height and weight together so that people of different heights can be compared. They found that people with a BMI of 30 (approximately equivalent to a 5'10" person who weighs 210 pounds, or a 6' person who weighs 221 pounds) had a significantly greater risk of getting pancreatic cancer than people with a BMI of 23 or less (165 pounds at 5'10", or 170 pounds at 6').

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