The Journal of the National Cancer Institute released a study on Monday indicating that diabetes after the age of 50 could be an early indicator of pancreatic cancer, one of the deadliest forms of cancer, reported CNN.
For 20 years, the study followed approximately 50,000 men and women of African-American and Hispanic descent above the age of 50. Even though none of the participants had diabetes or pancreatic cancer at the beginning of the study, researchers found that from about 16,000 who developed diabetes, 400 of them had developed pancreatic cancer during the 20-year time period.
This indicated that those who developed diabetes were twice as likely to develop pancreatic cancer, according to Wendy Setiawan, associate professor of preventive medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California and a lead author of the study.
“We need to have a better way to identify patients with early pancreatic cancer,” Setiawan said. “So we wanted to understand what are the characteristics of people in our study and other populations that help narrow down who are the high-risk populations.”
Those who developed the cancer were diagnosed with diabetes within three years before the diagnoses.
“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. “So people with recent-onset diabetes — which we defined as within 36 months from pancreatic cancer diagnosis — are at much higher risk for pancreatic cancer.”
Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest forms of cancers, with a five-year survival rate of only 8 percent. Little is known about the form of cancer and its causes, but researches are trying all the can to learn more. According to Mayo Clinic, symptoms include abdominal pain, weight loss, and fatigue. Smoking is also a major conduit that can lead to cancer, approximately causing 30 percent of pancreatic cancer cases.
“This suggests that the development of diabetes, especially later in life, could be an early sign of pancreatic cancer for some people,” said Dr. Zev Wainberg, associate professor in hematology/oncology and gastrointestinal oncology at UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center. “It suggests that patients with diabetes — new-onset diabetes in particular — and their clinicians should monitor and identify their risks for pancreatic cancer.”
It is still rare to be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer compared to Type 2 diabetes, with pancreatic cancer affecting around 55,000 people in the United States every year. There aren’t any reliable screening tests to help spot the disease yet, so every study counts. Researchers’ attempts to learn more about cancer and its causes are trying every route they can take to find cures. Every study takes researchers to a new level of discovery, and now the newest study offers a new clue that links diabetes to pancreatic cancer in specific high-risk populations. Approximately one in three U.S. adults is at risk for Type 2 diabetes.
“Patients develop Type 2 diabetes at a later age. It is a common disease. Pancreatic cancer is relatively rare. There is no indication for general screening for pancreatic cancer in patients with diabetes,” said Dr. Robert Rushakoff, professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco and medical director of the UCSF Diabetes Center. “These findings don’t do anything to change how diabetes patients are diagnosed or treated.”
According to the Mayo Clinic, the pancreas has many functions that include regulating blood sugar, linking it to diabetes. Diabetes occurs when either the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin or the body’s tissues become resistant to insulin. Typically, both population groups that were part of the study are at higher risk of developing diabetes.
“It is interesting to see that the increased association of pancreatic cancer is seen in these groups,” Rushakoff added. “The prevalence of diabetes is high in these groups so confirming the association of diabetes and pancreatic cancer in these groups would be important.”
Although the exact link between both diseases is still unclear, the new study shows which two populations are most at risk and continues to move medical research forward to help find cures and save lives.