Obesity raises risk of pancreatic cancer

August 28, 2001 in Cancer Prevention, Weight Management

Obesity raises risk of pancreatic cancer

The results of a new study from Harvard indicate that obesity may increase the risk of pancreatic cancer. And for people who are overweight, walking or hiking fewer than 2 hours a week can considerably reduce the risk of the disease.

The research team analyzed two large ongoing studies to see what effects, if any, body size and physical activity levels have on the risk of pancreatic cancer. One study included more than 46,000 male health professionals aged 40 to 75 years and the other included about 117,000 female nurses aged 30 to 55. Obesity is defined as having a body mass index (BMI), which takes into account weight and height, of 30 or higher. A person with a BMI of 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight.

Obese men and women were 72% more likely to be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer than people with a BMI of less than 23. Height was also related to the risk of pancreatic cancer, with the tallest people having an 81% higher risk than the shortest. But overweight and obese people who exercised moderately were much less likely to develop pancreatic cancer than sedentary individuals. The investigators found that people who walked or hiked 1.5 hours each week had a 50% lower risk of pancreatic cancer.

The link between moderate exercise and a reduced risk of pancreatic cancer was statistically significant only in people who were overweight or obese. The researchers speculate that since overweight and obese people are more likely to have problems processing blood sugar, they are likely to reap more of exercise's beneficial effects. The research adds more support to the idea that pancreatic cancer can be caused by abnormalities in the metabolism of glucose.

Cigarette smoking is estimated to cause about 25% of all cases of pancreatic cancer, but obesity and inactivity could account for up to 15% of cases, the editorialists suggest.

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