Pancreatic cancer patients who are obese before diagnosis have a shorter survival, findings of a new study claim.

Experts found patients who were obese prior to diagnosis of the lethal malignancy on an average lived two or three years less than those of healthy-weight.

The association was more pronounced for individuals who had been obese up to 20 years before diagnosis.

Senior study author Brian M. Wolpin, MD, MPH, an assistant professor of medicine at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School in Boston, MA. Stated, “This study adds to mounting evidence for the role of weight control in improving outcomes for patients with cancer. It also reinforces the importance of maintaining a healthy weight throughout your life, which may lead to better outcomes after diagnosis and help prevent pancreatic cancer from developing.

“While our findings will not affect the way we treat patients today, they provide new leads for investigating the molecular pathways that may be responsible for the survival difference between obese and healthy-weight patients. Hopefully, in the future, that research will bring new approaches for treatment of pancreatic cancer.”

Data analysis of two studies
In a bid to evaluate the link between Body Mass Index (BMI) and pancreatic cancer survival the researchers analyzed data from two large prospective studies – the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS) and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study (HPFS).

The former involving 121,700 female registered nurses, ages 30 to 55 years began in 1976 while the latter started in 1986 and included 51,529 men. During the study period, 902 cases of pancreatic cancer were documented (561 participants from NHS and 341 from HPFS).

Observations by the researchers
The analysis revealed patients lived for an average of only five months after diagnosis. However, those with an average, healthy weight BMI of 25 lived two to three months longer than overweight patients with a BMI of 30 or more. The threat of poorer survival was higher for patients who had been obese 18 to 20 years prior to their pancreatic cancer diagnosis.

This s obesity/survival connection persisted even after factoring age, sex, race, ethnicity, smoking and the stage of the cancer at diagnosis. Moreover, obese patients were more likely to be diagnosed with metastatic (has spread to other organs) pancreatic cancer compared with normal-weight patients. It was noted that the malignancy showed signs of spreading in 72 percent obese patients as opposed to 59 percent of normal-weight.

“Higher prediagnostic BMI was associated with statistically significantly decreased survival among patients with pancreatic cancer from two large prospective cohorts,” the authors concluded.

This study was published October 21 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

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