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Youthful Obesity Possible Link To Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer is difficult to diagnose. Most of the time it is discovered so late that death is almost imminent, but new research shows this disease may be prevented if people can control their weight.

Roger Giles has pancreatic cancer. Most people with this disease die within a year of their diagnosis, but Giles is betting against the odds.

"My fullest intention is to overcome this disease and move on with life, hopefully be prepared for surgery here in the immediate future, and get on with my life," says Roger Giles.

Doctor Mohammed Kalan teaches surgery at the George Washington University School of Medicine.

"Unfortunately, there are no reliable, routine blood tests that can be done on a regular basis to preemptively catch pancreatic cancer or catch it at an early stage," says Dr. Mohammed Kalan.

Dr. Kalan says the location of the pancreas makes diagnosis especially difficult.

"This is a deep-seated organ, and a tumor in the pancreas can grow considerably before a patient can have any symptoms," says Dr. Kalan.

The pancreas is partly hidden by the stomach.

Surgery is the only cure for early stage pancreatic cancer. So far, nothing can cure later stages of this disease which is when it is usually diagnosed.

But researchers at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center say there may be a way to help prevent it. Professor Donghui Li says there is a link between a person's weight and pancreatic cancer.

"Increasing evidence suggests that there is [an] association between being overweight and obesity with the risk of pancreatic cancer," says Professor Li.

Professor Li compared information from more than 800 pancreatic cancer patients with 754 healthy people. She asked them to recall their weight at various times in their lives.

The study found those who were overweight as teens were twice as likely to develop pancreatic cancer as their slimmer counterparts.

People who were obese as young adults had double the chance of developing this disease than adults who had never been obese.

Roger Giles was obese before his diagnosis. He acknowledges the role that his weight may have played in his illness.

"It's a terrible price to pay for being overweight," says Roger Giles.

The study also found that being overweight was a factor in having a diagnosis two to six years before other patients with pancreatic cancer who were not overweight.

"Weight control at [an] early age, at young adulthood, is most important to reduce the risk of cancer," says Professor Li.

Professor Li says the association between being overweight and pancreatic cancer was stronger in men than in women. The research showed it was also stronger in smokers than in those who had never smoked.

The study appears in the Journal of the American Medical Association.