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Obesity at early age raises cancer risks

June 23, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Pancreatic cancer is the nation's fourth leading cause of cancer-related death. Difficult to diagnosis, it is most often discovered in its late stages, making it particularly lethal. But new research shows that maintaining a healthy weight, beginning at a young age, is a huge step towards preventing the illness.Before pancreatic cancer patient Roger Giles was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, he had been overweight for most of his life. He dropped nearly 100 pounds since his cancer treatments. Now researchers believe Roger's former obesity may have played a role in his illness.

In a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association, experts say nearly 27 percent of all cases of this highly lethal cancer are due in part to excess weight.

MD Anderson Cancer Center researchers wanted to see if the age at which someone became overweight or obese made a difference. They gathered data from patients. Then researchers compared information from over 800 pancreatic cancer patients with nearly the same number of healthy individuals.

The study found being overweight or obese a year prior to diagnosis decreased a patient's survival time, and being overweight or obese as a teen or younger adult significantly increased an individual's risk of the cancer later in life.

"Weight control at early age, at young adulthood is most important to reduce the risk of cancer," said Dr. James L. Abbruzzes.

Looking back, Roger says he would change his past habits if he could.

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

Study authors say further research into what happens internally when individuals are overweight and how that might put them at higher risk for diseases is critical.

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