PANCREATIC CANCER, while relatively rare, carries a grim prognosis—less than 5 percent of people diagnosed with the disease can expect to survive for 5 years. But new findings offer hope that maintaining a healthy weight and getting regular exercise could help prevent the deadly condition.

Analyzing data from two long-term health studies involving more than 163,000 people, researchers at Harvard University found pancreatic cancer more likely to occur in people who were overweight. Obese people, those with a body mass index at or over 30 (186 pounds for a 5-foot, 6-inch adult), were at greatest risk. Their chance of getting pancreatic cancer was 72 percent higher than that of non-overweight people.

Exercise, on the other hand, appeared to lower people's risk for pancreatic cancer. Walking or hiking for 4 or more hours a week reduced cancer risk by 54 percent. The effect was greatest among people who were overweight. They were 41 percent less likely to get cancer if they were physically active.

The researchers hypothesize that insulin resistance, a condition that commonly occurs in people who are overweight and under-active, may play a role in the development of pancreatic cancer. People with insulin resistance need the pancreas to produce extra insulin to move sugar from the bloodstream to the body's tissues, where it is used for fuel. High blood levels of insulin are thought to increase cell division within the pancreas, which could include the division—and subsequent multiplication—of cancerous cells. Exercise and maintaining a healthy body weight may counteract this process by making insulin more effective at removing sugar from the bloodstream and therefore requiring less of it to do the job.

The association between obesity and pancreatic cancer fits within a larger body of research linking obesity and cancer in general. A review of existing literature on the obesity-cancer link, conducted by the American Institute for Cancer Research, found that obesity is a factor in some of the most com-mon cancers, including breast, colon, endo-metrial, and prostate cancer. Researchers at the institute also found that a lack of exercise increases the risk for a number of cancers.

Did you know…Coconut “milk” is not the thin liquid in the fruit's center. It's a cooked, strained mixture of coconut flesh and water. A cup has 450 to 550 calories.

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