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Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month: The Correlation Between Pancreatic Cancer and Diabetes

November 17, 2022

28.7 million Americans live with diabetes, a condition affecting the pancreas in which the body’s ability to either produce (type 1) or respond (type 2) to the hormone insulin is impaired, resulting in elevated levels of glucose in the blood.

Pancreatic cancer is commonly found among people with diabetes. In fact, more than 80 percent of pancreatic cancer cases are not diagnosed until after it has invaded nearby tissues or spread to other organs. Because there are no screenings to detect pancreatic cancer early, it is important for people with diabetes to understand how their condition may affect their risk of developing pancreatic cancer.

In recognition of Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, Thomas J. Harris, M.D., medical oncologist at Texas Oncology–Waco and Groesbeck, answers commonly asked questions about the correlation between pancreatic cancer and diabetes, as well as what diabetics can do to lower their risk of developing pancreatic cancer.

Why Do People With Diabetes Have an Increased Risk of Developing Pancreatic Cancer? Does One Type Have a Higher Risk Than the Other?

The mechanism of how diabetes is associated with pancreatic cancer differs on a case-by-case basis. It is unclear which develops first – whether pancreatic cancer is contributing to the development of diabetes, or diabetes is leading to pancreatic cancer. However, there is a clear connection between increased risk of pancreatic cancer and obesity in patients with diabetes. Type 2 diabetes seems to have the highest risk.

If Someone Recently Developed Diabetes, Can This Be a Sign of Pancreatic Cancer?

Healthy and older adult patients with newly developed diabetes should consider getting screened for pancreatic cancer. However, there are no formal guidelines outlining pancreatic cancer screenings for people with diabetes who may be at an increased risk.

What Are Common Signs and Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer That Diabetics Should Monitor For

The most common symptoms presented with pancreatic cancer include abdominal pain, weight loss, and jaundice, which is yellowing of the skin. Many patients with pancreatic cancer also report loss of appetite, dark urine, nausea, back pain, and/or generalized weakness. If you notice any new or concerning symptoms, consult with your physician as soon as possible.

Are There Ways That Diabetics Can Prevent and/or Lower Their Risk of Pancreatic Cancer Beyond the Best Practices of Eating a Healthy Diet and Not Smoking?

Patients with diabetes can lower their risk of pancreatic cancer by limiting tobacco use, decreasing alcohol consumption, maintaining a healthy lifestyle to prevent obesity, and incorporating physical activity.

For upcoming webinars visit www.TexasOncologyFoundation.org.