According to the results of a study published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, recent-onset diabetes may be a complication or marker of pancreatic cancer in some individuals.
Pancreatic cancer has one of the highest mortality rates of all cancers. It accounts for approximately 2% of all newly diagnosed cancers in the U.S. each year, but 5% of all cancer deaths. Pancreatic cancer is often called a “silent killer” because its symptoms are usually not recognizable until it has advanced and spread outside the pancreas. As a result, the majority of pancreatic cancers are not diagnosed until they have reached advanced stages and are considered incurable.
In an attempt to improve the early detection of pancreatic cancer, researchers continue to search for factors that increase the risk of developing pancreatic cancer. Identification of high-risk individuals may allow for interventions or surveillance that will improve cancer survival.
A link between diabetes and pancreatic cancer has been reported by previous studies, but it’s uncertain whether diabetes increases the risk of pancreatic cancer, or whether early pancreatic cancer can cause diabetes. It may work both ways.
To further explore the relationship between diabetes and pancreatic cancer, researchers conducted a study among 532 pancreatic cancer patients and 1,701 individuals without pancreatic cancer.
- A history of diabetes was reported by 13% of the patients with pancreatic cancer and 9% of the individuals without pancreatic cancer.
- Risk of pancreatic cancer was increased among those with more recently diagnosed diabetes (diabetes diagnosed within the previous nine years). Among individuals who had been diabetic for 10 years or longer, there was no evidence of an increased risk of pancreatic cancer.
- Among diabetics, those who had begun using insulin in the previous five years had an increased risk of pancreatic cancer. Longer-term use of insulin or oral diabetes medications was not associated with an increased risk of pancreatic cancer.
The researchers conclude that individuals with recently diagnosed diabetes are at increased risk for pancreatic cancer, particularly if the diabetes is severe enough to require insulin treatment. The link with recent-onset diabetes suggests that diabetes may sometimes be a complication or early marker of pancreatic cancer.
Reference: Wang F, Gupta S, Holly EA. Diabetes Mellitus and Pancreatic Cancer in a Population-based Case-control Study in the San Francisco Bay Area, California. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention. 2006;15:1458-63.