Patients and their doctors should be aware that the onset of diabetes, or a rapid deterioration in existing diabetes that requires more aggressive treatment, could be a sign of early, hidden pancreatic cancer, according to research presented at the European Cancer Congress 2017.
Ms Alice Koechlin, from the International Prevention Research Institute in Lyon, France, told the meeting that an analysis linking nearly a million patients with type 2 diabetes in Lombardy (Italy) and Belgium with recorded cases of pancreatic cancer showed that 50% of all pancreatic cancers cases in the two regions were diagnosed within one year of patients being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and being given their first prescription to control it.
“In Belgium 25% of cases were diagnosed within 90 days and in Lombardy it was 18%. After the first year, the proportion of diagnosed pancreatic cancers dropped dramatically,” she said. The researchers found that compared with patients who were able to continue with oral anti-diabetic drugs, patients in Belgium and in Lombardy had a 3.5-fold greater risk of being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the first three months after their first prescription for incretins (metabolic hormones that stimulate the pancreas to produce more insulin to lower blood glucose levels); this fell to a 2.3-fold risk in the next three to six months, to a two-fold risk for the next six to 12 months and 1.7-fold risk after the first year.
Dr. Stegall’s Comments: Because diabetes affects the pancreas so significantly, it is not surprising that this study found a link between diabetes and pancreatic cancer risk. The burden a chronic disease like diabetes puts on the pancreas is tremendous, and diabetes is largely a disease of lifestyle. By that, I mean that almost all cases of diabetes are preventable (and many are even reversible) with good nutrition, regular exercise, and other lifestyle improvements.