Study: Obesity May Promote Breast and Pancreatic Cancer

Understanding the connection could lead to new treatments.

More than half of patients with breast or pancreatic cancer are overweight, and a new study out of Massachusetts General Hospital may explain why.

A team of Mass General researchers found that obesity may actually encourage the formation of breast and pancreatic tumors. The team found that obese patients had an excessive amount of a growth protein called PlGF, which promotes tumor progression when it binds with its receptor. They also found, according to a statement, that obesity was linked to “increased infiltration of tumor-promoting immune cells and the growth and metastasis of pancreatic cancers.”

In the statement, co-senior author Rakesh Jain said the discovery could help direct treatment for breast and pancreatic cancers, and could potentially apply to other types of disease as well. “The fact that this new mechanism underlies obesity’s impact on two types of cancer suggests that it may be a common mechanism of tumor induction that could apply to other cancer types,” he said.

As doctors begin to better understand obesity’s role in cancer, they could use factors like body weight and PGlF levels to determine which treatment regimen would likely work best for certain patients, the researchers say.

That level of treatment specificity is likely a ways off, but it’s never too early to embark on a weight loss plan—after all, it’s better to be safe than sorry.