AHN, Johns Hopkins researchers to study obesity, pancreatic cancer |

AHN, Johns Hopkins researchers to study obesity, pancreatic cancer

Emily Balser
Allegheny Health Network on Tuesday announced the opening of a comprehensive medical clinic at Highmark’s Penn Avenue Place in Downtown Pittsburgh.

Researchers at Allegheny Health Network Cancer Institute and Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center are teaming up to study the link between obesity and pancreatic cancer.

Researchers plan to study new treatments, potential screening methods and modifiable risk factors for pancreatic cancer, which includes obesity.

AHN officials said pancreatic cancer is one of the most aggressive and deadly cancers, with five-year survival rates of less than 10 percent. The death rate for pancreatic cancer is increasing slightly each year.

Pancreatic cancer usually causes symptoms only after the disease has advanced. No reliable screening test exists that can detect it in its early stages.

“We know that people who are obese are at about 20 percent higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer. About 40 percent of Americans are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and those numbers are continuing to rise, putting many more people at risk,” said Dr. Dulabh Monga, medical oncologist at AHN Cancer Institute and Program director.

Monga said in the press release researchers hypothesize one link could be that fat cells in and around the pancreas imprint neutrophils – a type of white blood cell that protects us from infection – in a way that their anti-tumor immunity function is suppressed.

Other theories have included hormonal changes associated with excessive fat, and increased exposure to carcinogens due to increased food consumption. Obesity is also associated with diabetes, which in turn is linked to pancreatic cancer development, Monga said.

She said this research could help clarify the complex connection between obesity and pancreatic cancer and could lead to researchers identifying people most at risk. It could also allow for the development of preventative strategies and targeted therapies.

Emily Balser is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Emily at 724-226-4680, [email protected] or via Twitter @emilybalser.