Pancreatic cancer risk linked to obesity, diet

Last Modified: November 1, 2001

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Last Updated: 2001-02-02 13:15:53 EST (Reuters Health) - A report from a researcher at the National Cancer Institute adds obesity and various dietary characteristics to the list of risk factors for pancreatic cancer.

Dr. Debra T. Silverman of the Bethesda, Maryland-based National Institutes of Health interviewed 526 pancreatic cancer patients from Atlanta, Georgia; Detroit, Michigan; and ten New Jersey counties. She also interviewed 2153 population-based controls.

"Results of our study are consistent with those of previous studies, indicating that cigarette smoking, diabetes mellitus, and family history of pancreatic cancer are risk factors for pancreatic cancer," the investigator writes in the current issue of Teratogenesis, Carcinogenesis, and Mutagenesis.

She also found evidence to support a number of other risk factors, such as obesity, caloric intake, low intake of cruciferous vegetables, a history of cholecystectomy (up to 20 years before diagnosis) and heavy alcohol consumption. These findings are still somewhat speculative and "will require further confirmation in future studies to determine whether the observed associations are, in fact, causal," Dr. Silverman told Reuters Health.

Alcohol consumption at what would be considered normal levels in the US did not appear to affect cancer risk, except in black women and white women, who had a nonsignificant 50% and 40% increase in risk, respectively.

The study is the first to show a link between pancreatic cancer risk and a family history of cancer of the colon, ovary, endometrium or breast. "These findings are consistent with the constellation of tumors associated with hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer," Dr. Silverman notes in the journal. She also reports that diabetes appeared to be both a risk factor for and a consequence of pancreatic cancer.

While Dr. Silverman says would be premature to change current practice for the prevention of pancreatic cancer based on the new findings, she does have some advice for physicians. "About 25% of pancreatic cancer is due to cigarette smoking," she pointed out in the interview with Reuters Health. "Because at least 30 studies have linked smoking to pancreatic cancer, a prudent course would be to encourage smoking cessation."


  • Teratogen Carcinog Mutagen 2001;21:7-25. (Abstract not available online at time of posting.)


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