Adolescent Obesity Significantly Increases Pancreatic Cancer Risk Later in Life


Study evaluates the association between body mass index in late adolescence and the incidence of pancreatic cancer in adulthood.

Excessive body weight during adolescence may affect the likelihood of developing pancreatic cancer in adulthood, with new research linking obesity during this time to a 4-fold increased risk of the cancer later in life, according to a new study published in CANCER.

The American Cancer Society lists obesity as a risk factor for pancreatic cancer, citing that individuals who are overweight are approximately 20% more likely to develop the disease. For the study, the authors aimed to determine the effect of obesity in adolescence on pancreatic cancer risk later in life.

The study analyzed more than 1 million Israeli Jewish men and more than 700,000 Jewish women who underwent a compulsory physical examination between the ages of 16 and 19 years from 1967 to 2002. The researchers used the Israeli National Cancer Registry to identify pancreatic cancer incidence through 2012.

Overall, 551 new cases of pancreatic cancer were identified over a median of 23.3 years of follow-up, including 423 cancers among men and 128 cancers among women. The study found that obesity was associated with a 3.67-times higher cancer risk among men and a 4.07-times higher risk among women compared with normal weight.

Among men, high-normal body mass index (BMI) and being overweight was also linked with a higher risk for cancer compared with low-normal BMI (high‐normal BMI: HR, 1.49; 95% CI, 1.05‐2.13; overweight: HR, 1.97; 95% CI, 1.39‐2.80), according to the study. The researchers estimated the overall population attributable fraction of pancreatic cancer due to adolescent overweight and obesity was 11%.

Another systematic study published in Obesity Reviews also tied early obesity to an increased risk of pancreatic cancer, as well as diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, esophageal adenocarcinoma, gastric cardia cancer, hepatocellular carcinoma, multiple myeloma, renal cancer, and thyroid cancer. In this study, the researchers found that each 5 kg/m2 increase in body weight at a young age contributed to a significantly increased risk of each cancer.

Obesity and cancer share several contributing factors, such as poor diet and lack of physical activity, and obesity can contribute to many diseases that can lead to cancer. In addition, the authors of the study published in CANCER noted that systematic inflammation due to obesity may be a potential contributor to the development of pancreatic cancer.

The study’s findings add to increasing concern over the effect of adolescent obesity on health outcomes later in life, according to the authors. Early interventions targeting individuals who are overweight or obese in childhood or young adulthood may help reduce their chances of developing these cancers.


Levi Z, Rotenberg Y, Twig G, et al. Adolescent overweight and obesity and the risk for pancreatic cancer among men and women: a nationwide study of 1.79 million Israeli adolescents. CANCER. 2018.

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