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Study Finds Further Association Between Diabetes and Pancreatic Cancer

A new Mayo Clinic study found that 40 percent of pancreatic cancer patients are diagnosed with diabetes prior to their pancreatic cancer diagnosis.

The onset of diabetes appears to be many months (in some cases up to two years) prior to cancer diagnosis. This information provides researchers an important clue for earlier detection of pancreatic cancer.

"Our previous studies have shown an association between recent
diagnoses of diabetes and pancreatic cancer," says Suresh Chari, M.D., a Mayo Clinic gastroenterologist and the study’s lead author. "We are now quite convinced that in most patients with pancreatic cancer the diabetes is caused by the cancer and not the other way around. Our next step is to identify a biomarker for pancreatic cancer-induced diabetes in order to screen patients with new-onset diabetes for early pancreatic cancer and provide surgical treatment as quickly as possible."

More than 33,000 people die each year from pancreatic cancer, the
fourth-leading cause of cancer death in the United States. Patients with this cancer seldom exhibit disease-specific symptoms until the cancer is at an advanced stage and surgery is no longer an option. Therefore, fewer than 5 percent of pancreatic cancer patients survive five years after diagnosis.

This study reviewed the medical records of 736 patients with pancreatic cancer and 1,875 healthy individuals with fasting blood glucose data in their medical record. Dr. Chari’s team found that 40 percent of pancreatic cancer patients were diagnosed with diabetes, while only 20 percent of the healthy individuals had fasting blood glucose levels in the diabetic range.

Type 2 diabetes is far more common than pancreatic cancer-induced diabetes. According to a previous study authored by Dr. Chari, only one in 125 patients over age 50 with new-onset diabetes will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Dr. Chari’s team continues work in identifying the differences between pancreatic cancer-induced diabetes and regular type 2 diabetes. The goal of the research is to cost-effectively screen for pancreatic cancer using a blood test that can identify individuals who have new-onset diabetes and are more likely to have pancreatic cancer. This will allow for earlier detection and increased opportunity for successful surgical treatment.

Journal of Gastroenterology, Jan, 2008

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