September 25, 2008

Cancer Alert on Stomach Weight

By Paula Fentiman

Obese women who carry most of their extra weight in their stomach are 70% more likely to develop pancreatic cancer, a study found today.

Researchers identified a link between high waist-to-hip ratios and cancer of the pancreas while monitoring more than 138,000 women for seven years.

The study of postmenopausal American women investigated the effects of obesity on pancreatic cancer as part of the Women's Health Initiative, which looks at health problems experienced by postmenopausal women.

A total of 251 women in the study developed pancreatic cancer, 78 of whom had the highest waist-to-hip ratios.

The figure was 70% more than the 34 women with the lowest waist- to-hip ratios who went on to develop the disease - after adjusting for other potential risk factors including age and smoking status.

Lead author Dr Juhua Luo, based at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, said: "We found that the risk of developing pancreatic cancer was significantly raised in obese postmenopausal women who carry most of their excess weight around the stomach.

"Obesity is a growing and largely preventable problem, so it's important that women are aware of this major increase in risk."

The study, published in the British Journal of Cancer, suggests that obesity could increase the risk of pancreatic cancer by affecting insulin levels.

"We know that carrying a high proportion of abdominal fat is associated with increased levels of insulin, so we think this may cause the link between obesity and pancreatic cancer," Dr Luo said.

Pancreatic cancer is the UK's sixth most common cause of cancer death.

Usually, the disease is diagnosed only once it has spread and is difficult to treat successfully. Only 2% or 3% of people survive more than five years after being diagnosed.

Around 7,000 people die from pancreatic cancer each year in the UK. Around 7,400 cases of the disease were diagnosed in the UK in 2004, of which 3,800 were women.

Until today's study, the risk factors included smoking.

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