Diabetes May Double Risk for Pancreatic Cancer

Diabetes patients who were recently diagnosed faced a greater likelihood of pancreatic cancer

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Studies have shown diabetes to be linked to pancreatic cancer. Those newly diagnosed with diabetes may be at greatest risk, suggesting that these patients may benefit from a cancer screening.

Diabetes occurs more frequently in patients with pancreatic cancer than in the general population. Pancreatic cancer, however, is often diagnosed at an advanced, incurable stage.

A new wide-reaching investigation discovered that individuals who had recent-onset diabetes faced a higher likelihood of getting this cancer, suggesting that a program to check this population for the cancer may help catch the disease before it progresses.

"Ask your doctor about screening options for pancreatic cancer."

Mehrdad Nikfarjam, MD, in the Department of Surgery at the University of Melbourne in Australia, and his colleagues reviewed 88 studies from 1973 to 2013, looking at the association between diabetes and pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC), the most common type of pancreatic cancer.

These scientists calculated an overall 1.97-fold increased risk of PDAC among patients with diabetes compared to those without diabetes, which is consistent with previous systematic reviews. When evaluating all patients with diabetes, the researchers discovered that patients with new-onset diabetes had the greatest relative risk of PDAC.

At less than one year after diabetes diagnosis, the measure of relative risk for PDAC was 6.69, compared with a PDAC relative risk measure of 1.36 at 10 years after diabetes diagnosis.

"The study revealed the risk of pancreatic cancer was greatest after the diagnosis of diabetes but remained elevated long after the diagnosis,” said Dr. Nikfarjam in a press release. “The presence of diabetes remains a modest risk factor for the development of a cancer later in life."

About 50 to 80 percent of PDAC patients have diabetes or blood sugar levels that are higher than normal, according to the authors. In patients recently diagnosed with diabetes, PDAC develops in 1 to 2 percent over the first three years.

A priority for pancreatic cancer screening should be with those patients who have new onset diabetes, according to Dr. Nikfrajam.

"New onset diabetes is more prevalent in people over the age of 55,” said Dr. Nikfrajam in a statement. “It may be important to consider screening all newly diagnosed diabetics for pancreatic cancer, particularly those without significant risk factors for developing diabetes in the first place.”

Taking steps to prevent diabetes (through diet and exercise, for example) may also reduce the "long-term pancreatic cancer burden," added the authors in their concluding statements.

This study was published in March in Annals of Surgical Oncology.

Review Date: 
March 20, 2014
Last Updated:
March 20, 2014