Study finds high BMI may play role in development of pancreatic cancer

6/26/2009

NEW YORK In reviewing the weight history of pancreatic cancer patients across their life spans, researchers at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center have determined that a high body mass index in early adulthood may play a significant role in an individual developing the disease at an earlier age.

The study, published in the June 24 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, also found that patients who are obese the year before diagnosis have a poorer outcome than those who are not.

While excess weight is a known risk factor associated with pancreatic cancer, before now, few studies have looked at patients’ body mass index throughout their lifetime rather than simply at adulthood and/or the year of disease diagnosis.

Participants’ BMIs were calculated at each age period and then classified by World Health Organization guidelines as either normal, overweight (greater than or equal to a score of 25, but less than 30) or obese (30 or greater). The researchers then compared the prevalence of overweight and obesity between both the patients and the controls. Among the cancer patients, they also compared the mean or median age of pancreatic cancer diagnosis and the overall survival time between those that were of normal weight, overweight and obese.

“This is the first study to explore at which ages excess body weight predisposes an individual to pancreatic cancer,” said Donghui Li, Ph.D., a professor in M. D. Anderson’s Department of Gastrointestinal Medical Oncology and the study’s corresponding author. “With our epidemiological research, we aimed to demonstrate the relationship between BMI and risk of pancreatic cancer across a patient’s life span and determine if there was a time period that specifically predisposes an individual to the disease, as well as the link between BMI and cancer occurrence and overall survival of the disease.”

Pancreatic cancer is the fourth-leading cause of cancer death in men and women in this country. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 42,470 persons will be diagnosed, and 35,240 likely will die from the disease in 2009. The median survival for patients with the disease is less than 10 months, and the five-year survival rate is less than 5%.

“With our study, we hoped to better understand the cause-and-effect relationship between this modifiable risk factor that contributes to the development of pancreatic cancer, in hopes that high-risk individuals can be identified and preventive measures discovered for this lethal disease,” said Li.

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