Is Childhood Obesity Linked to Pancreatic Cancer?

Preventing early obesity could reduce deaths from pancreatic cancer.

A new study by Jeanine Genkinger, PhD, epidemiologist at the Pancreas Center, and colleagues at multiple centers across the U.S. and Europe, sheds light on yet another reason to keep your weight under control: the bigger one’s waist size, the greater one’s risk for developing pancreatic cancer and of dying from it. The study, Central adiposity, obesity during early adulthood, and pancreatic cancer mortality in a pooled analysis of cohort studies, was published in the Annals of Oncology Sept. 7, 2015.

The researchers were attempting to determine whether the dramatic rise in deaths from pancreatic cancer since 2000 may be linked to the consistent increase in childhood obesity rates over the last several decades.

Previous research has established that obesity increases the risk of developing many types of cancer due to heightened inflammation and insulin resistance resulting from excess visceral fat.  A number of studies have already confirmed an association between excess body mass index (BMI) and pancreatic cancer.

Dr. Genkinger and her colleagues analyzed measures of obesity independent of BMI, including waist-to-hip ratio and waist circumference. This approach allowed the team to focus on the role of visceral fat, or central obesity, on pancreatic cancer risk. They also looked at the timing of obesity, i.e. whether patients were already obese or had higher BMI as young adults, or whether their weight gain occurred later in life.

The researchers found that patients with higher BMI in early adulthood had a significantly higher risk of dying from pancreatic cancer than if they gained their weight later in life. For every 10 cm increase in waist circumference, patients had a 9% greater likelihood of dying from pancreatic cancer. Patients with early adulthood BMI between 30 and 40 had about a 43% greater chance of dying from pancreatic cancer, compared to those at a healthy weight. Every 5 point increase in BMI corresponded to an 18% increase in pancreatic cancer mortality. 

As they explain, “After many years of stable rates in the US, pancreatic cancer mortality rates began to increase in the early 2000s, possibly due to a delayed effect of increases in obesity prevalence, particularly at younger ages, over recent decades. The delay between increases in the prevalence of obesity and increases in pancreatic cancer mortality is consistent with a long latency period, implying that obesity during early adulthood may have a stronger influence on pancreatic cancer mortality than obesity arising in later adulthood. Based on mutually adjusted estimates, our findings were consistent with this hypothesis.”

According to the findings in this study, preventing childhood obesity may be a critical step toward preventing pancreatic cancer and reducing its deadly toll. 

Learn more about pancreatic cancer.

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