April 1 (UPI) -- Having too much body weight before turning 50 may put people at greater risk of dying from pancreatic cancer, new research shows.
Researchers linked a 25 percent increase in pancreatic cancer risk with an increase of five body mass index, or BMI, units -- about 32 pounds -- for someone who is 5-foot-7 and between age 30 and 49, according to a study presented Sunday at the American Association for Cancer Research's 2019 annual meeting.
"Pancreatic cancer rates have been steadily increasing since the early 2000s," Eric J. Jacobs, senior scientific director of Epidemiology Research at the American Cancer Society and study lead author, said in a news release. "We've been puzzled by that increase because smoking -- a major risk factor for pancreatic cancer -- is declining."
While only 3 percent of people in the United States ever develops pancreatic cancer, it causes a third of all cancer deaths. Pancreatic cancer has an 8.5 percent survival rate, according to the National Cancer Institute
The researchers report that once people got north of age 50, the association decreased sharply.
The death risk association was an increase of about 19 percent for people between 50 and 59 and 14 percent for those between ages 60 and 69.
"Increased weight in the U.S. population is a likely suspect, but previous studies have indicated that excess weight is linked with only a relatively small increase in risk, which doesn't look large enough to fully explain recent increases in pancreatic cancer rates," Jacobs said.
Jacobs is cautious, though, not to fully attribute the spike in overall pancreatic cancer numbers in the U.S. solely to weight.
Other studies, however, also point to a link between extra weight and the rise in other cancer rates.
In all, Jacobs predicts that excess weight will likely be responsible for 28 percent of pancreatic cancer deaths of people born in the U.S. between 1970 and 1974. That's compared to 15 percent of pancreatic cancer linked to weight for people born in the 1930s.
"Our results strongly suggest that to stop and eventually reverse recent increases in pancreatic cancer rates, we will need to do better in preventing excess weight gain in children and younger adults, an achievement which would help prevent many other diseases as well," Jacobs said.