Late onset of diabetes could be indicative of pancreatic cancer

Onset of pancreas cancer after the age of 50 years could be a sign of development of pancreatic cancer finds a new study.

3D illustration of Pancreas - part of digestive system, medical concept. Image Credit: MDGRPHCS / Shutterstock
3D illustration of Pancreas - part of digestive system, medical concept. Image Credit: MDGRPHCS / Shutterstock

Pancreatic cancer is one of the most dreaded cancers with around 8 percent chances of surviving for at least 5 years after diagnosis. Around 9,600 people in United Kingdom and 55,000 people in United States are affected with pancreatic cancer annually and of these 80 percent are diagnosed when the cancer has spread to other major organs and the cancer is advanced.

This cancer often manifests as weight loss, fatigue and pain abdomen along with diarrhoea, jaundice and other gastrointestinal symptoms. Smokers, obese individuals and those with a family history are at risk of this type of cancer. Smoking alone is associated with nearly one third of pancreas cancers says the American Cancer Society.

According to this new study that followed over 50,000 African-American and Hispanic men and women aged over 50 years for over two decades (1993 to 2013), the risk of pancreatic cancer rises with late onset diabetes. The study results were published in the latest issue of the Journal of National Cancer Institute this week.

At the start of the study, none of the participants had diabetes or pancreatic cancer. During the course of the follow up, 15,833 individuals developed diabetes and 408 developed pancreatic cancer. Analysis revealed that those who developed diabetes in the population were twice as likely to get pancreatic cancer as those who did not develop diabetes.

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 explained that her team set out to identify patients with early pancreatic cancer. This study, she said would help researchers identify the high risk populations for pancreatic cancer.

The researchers noted that over half (52.3 percent) of the diabetics were diagnosed with diabetes within three years of getting a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. She said both diagnoses in most individuals were “very, very close” to each other. She said that they could conclude that “people with recent-onset diabetes (defined as within 36 months from pancreatic cancer diagnosis) are at much higher risk for pancreatic cancer.”

The researchers as well as other experts believe that the key here is late onset diabetes and newly onset diabetes later in life. They add that not all who develop diabetes late could be at risk of pancreatic cancer as the cancer still remains rare. Further treatment as well as diagnosis of pancreas cancer remains the same with or without diabetes.

This study focussed on African-American and Hispanic populations which as minority populations but are at a greater risk of diabetes. Setiawan explains that pancreatic cancer detection early is a challenge and this study could provide some insights into this cancer. There are at present no screening tests for pancreatic cancer.

This large scale study could help researchers understand the cancer better and devise ways to detect it early says Setiawan. Pancreatic cancer remains the fourth largest killer in the United States.

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