Diabetes Mellitus may be an early sign of pancreatic cancer

Leslie Hanson
June 20, 2018

A new study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, published by Oxford University Press, indicates that recent-onset type 2 diabetes may be early expression of pancreatic cancer. That's the deadliest form of cancer, with just an 8 percent overall five-year survival rate. Importantly, the researchers demonstrated that the association of recent-onset diabetes with pancreatic cancer incidence was evident in African- Americans and Latinos. Most people in the study who had diabetes and developed pancreatic cancer were diagnosed with diabetes less than three years before their cancer diagnosis.

The researchers studied the data of about 49,000 African-Americans and Latinos, two ethnic groups with a high rate of diabetes, and concluded that people diagnosed with diabetes between the ages of 65 and 85 were more likely to develop pancreatic cancer within three years as compared with people without diabetes.

Though previous studies have shown an association between diabetes and pancreatic cancer, the new study's focus on high-risk populations is unique, according to Rushakoff. The participants' ages were more than 50. No participant had pancreatic cancer or diabetes when the study was initiated. This study can lead to a better understanding of the process and the risk factors, and could, in turn, allow researchers to determine which populations are at higher risk.

"If you really look at the type of Type 2 diabetes that pancreatic cancer patients have, the majority of those diabetes are diagnosed very, very close to the time of the cancer diagnosis", Setiawan said.

This is striking when compared with other cancers - recently-diagnosed diabetes is only found in 6.7 per cent of bowel cancer patients, 5.3 per cent of those with breast cancer, and 5.5 per cent of prostate cancer patients.

Among patients undergoing pancreaticoduodenectomies - the surgical operation often used to try to remove pancreatic tumours - over half of patients with recent-onset diabetes have no diabetes postoperatively.

Developing type 2 diabetes in middle age may be a sign of pancreatic cancer, according to research.

During an average follow-up of 14 years, among those with diabetes, 128 participants developed pancreatic cancer. "Many people don't know that if you go without diabetes untreated that you could actually get amputations, that you could suffer a heart attack, that you could go blind, and so folks don't take it seriously because they have relatives that have and say 'so and so has diabetes, and they're fine, ' and we don't always know the downstream effects, ". Research suggests these testing guidelines miss genetic predisposition to cancer in up to 90 percent of pancreatic cancer patients with no family history.

The pancreas, located in the abdomen, helps regulate blood sugar.

"By the time pancreatic cancer is found, it's nearly always spread or it's to the point where it can't be removed successfully", Wainberg said.

But they suggest that those individuals who develop diabetes later in life might want to have a conversation with their physician about their risk for pancreatic cancer, he said.

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