Obesity: risk factor of pancreatic cancer

Obesity is a growing problem in people of all ages. Obesity is a modifiable risk factor for pancreatic cancer. Maintaining a healthy weight reduces risk of the disease and other related conditions such as type 2 diabetes. 

Obesity is a modifiable risk factor. This means you can adjust your own risk through behaviour and lifestyle choices. Maintaining a healthy body weight through a balanced diet and exercise reduces the chances of pancreatic cancer. 

What is obesity?

Obesity is when you have an excess amount of body fat that presents a risk to health. 

How do you know what is too much fat?

A common way of measuring a person’s body fat and health in relation to their weight is body mass index (BMI). 

This is the ratio of your weight in kilograms (kg) to height in meters squared (m2), where a BMI of 18.5 to less than 25 is normal, 25 to less than 30 is overweight and greater than 30 is obese.

This is a useful guide for most people of whether they are a healthy weight. A better measure for those who are overweight or obese is waist circumference. The fat around this area is more closely linked to health problems. NHS UK lists men with a waist circumference of 94cm (37inches) or women with a waist circumference of 80cm (31.5inches) or above as at risk of obesity related health problems. If you are concerned about your weight, you can discuss this with your GP.

Why is weight relevant to pancreatic cancer?

Obesity can increase your chances of pancreatic cancer. It can also increase your chances of type 2 diabetes. Obesity has been to shown to have a dose-response relationship with pancreatic cancer risk. This means that the more overweight or obese you are, the higher the chance could be of getting the disease. 

Why could obesity increase you risk of having cancer?

Fat cells are active in the body. They produce hormones such insulin and growth factors which control how cells reproduce and die. Excess fat affects hormone production and cell growth, increasing the likelihood of cancers including pancreatic.

The age of weight gain and where weight is spread impacts your chances of pancreatic cancer. The younger you gain weight and the more of it is distributed around your middle increases your chance as you age. The more weight you lose reduces your risk. Weight gain is linked with type 2 diabetes, another risk factor which increases your chances for pancreatic cancer. Weight loss and diet adjustments reduce the chance of cancer and type 2 diabetes.

How can I keep a healthy weight/ or lose weight to make sure I am healthy?

Being a healthy weight is protective against pancreatic cancer. Keeping a healthy weight can be challenging but support and advice is available.

Keep active If you are just starting out, try walking more and build up your activity regime gradually.
Eat a balanced diet As a guide the average man needs about 2,500 calories and the average woman needs 2,000 calories a day to maintain their weight
Eat breakfast Eating breakfast can help you avoid getting too hungry and snacking on unhealthy food between meals.
Get support Connect with other people on their weight loss journey by joining a club or join the online forum HealthUnlocked.

Please see the NHS website for more information on having a balanced and healthy diet.

Obesity in children

Obesity in children and young people is a growing concern. Around 1 in 3 children are overweight at primary school age and are more likely to be obese as adults. Maintaining an active lifestyle and balanced diet is important for children and adults alike to prevent obesity and related health risks.

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Information Product № Published 15/10/2019
Last Updated 15/10/2019 Next Review Due 15/10/2022