Another Risk Factor for Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer risk increased with obesity

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Cigarette smoking and diabetes are associated with a higher risk of pancreatic cancer. Now another risk factor for this cancer has been confirmed.

Some research has shown that excess body fat can increase the risk of pancreatic cancer. A research team recently analyzed many published studies on the link between body fat and pancreatic cancer to compare their findings.

These researchers found that obesity was linked to an increased risk of pancreatic cancer, even in people who did not smoke.

"Talk to a nutritionist for advice on a healthy diet for weight loss."

The authors of this research were led by Guiseppe Fusai, MS, FRCS, from the Hepato Pancreatico-Biliary Surgery and Liver Transplant Unit at the Royal Free Hospital, in London, UK.

The research team reviewed published research on pancreatic cancer in which the participants’ body fat was measured.

Body mass index (BMI) is one measure of body fat. For most of the studies reviewed, a BMI between 25 and 30 was considered overweight, and BMIs over 30 were considered obese.

This review revealed that the risk of pancreatic cancer increased as BMI increased. People with a BMI between 30 and 35 had a 19 to 47 percent increased risk of pancreatic cancer compared to normal weight people.

People with a BMI between 35 and 40 had a 19 to 55 percent increased risk for pancreatic cancer compared to normal weight people.

To remove the risk factor of smoking, Fusai and his team looked at the effect of obesity on pancreatic cancer risk in studies that compared non-smokers and smokers separately.

When the researchers looked at the data from non-smoking men they found that men with a BMI over 35 had a 34 to 48 percent higher risk of getting pancreatic cancer than men of normal weight.

The results confirmed that obesity alone was a risk factor for pancreatic cancer and that obese people did not have to smoke to be at increased risk.

The authors of this study felt that too much insulin and possibly too much estrogen might have effects that increase belly fat and that belly fat may have put some of the patients in the studies at higher risk for pancreatic cancer.

This review found several factors in the published studies that limited their analysis and conclusions. One factor was that not all studies used a BMI cutoff of 30 to identify obesity.

Some studies did not consider whether patients smoked or analyzed the association of smoking on pancreatic cancer separately from the effect of BMI.

Regarding the studies that did compare non-smokers to smokers, the authors wrote, “Rather consistently in many studies the association between BMI and pancreatic cancer is stronger in never-smokers compared to current and former smokers."

These authors concluded that there is substantial evidence that obesity has a role in pancreatic cancer risk, even without the presence of other known risk factors.

This review was published in the June issue of Surgical Oncology.

The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
June 19, 2014
Last Updated:
June 23, 2014