The Diabetes and Pancreatic Cancer Connection

The pancreas has many functions, and one of its most important roles is the regulation of blood sugar.

To reduce blood sugar levels, the pancreas produces insulin. To increase blood sugar, the pancreas produces glucagon. But far too often, the complex mechanisms that keep this finely tuned balancing act functioning perfectly can go awry. The result: diabetes, a chronic condition that has been called a 21st century epidemic, affecting about 9 percent of the U.S. population.

Dr. Suresh Chari

Several New Studies Offer New Clues for Potential Earlier Detection

Indeed, the relationship between diabetes and pancreatic cancer has been known for more than a century. “But we still don’t fully understand it,” Chari says. “There are groups throughout the world looking at the relationship but there are still a lot of questions to be answered and more questions we need to ask. Nonetheless, this is an area of research that could potentially lead to earlier detection of pancreatic cancer. That’s vital if we are going to improve long-term survival.”

Understanding the Diabetes Connection

Although more research needs to done, earlier detection will happen, Chari says. He is currently working on a multi-site trial involving 10,000 participants with new-onset diabetes, who may have a higher-than-average chance of developing pancreatic cancer. Participants will have blood tests every six months. Researchers hope to identify biomarkers that could potentially be used in new screening methods. “If we could identify those individuals who are at the highest risk of pancreatic cancer and get them into appropriate screening programs, we can improve survival,” he explains, emphasizing that people with diabetes shouldn’t panic. “Just be aware,” he adds. “People and their doctors need to be alert and the research community needs to come up with more answers. Incredible progress is being made in pancreatic cancer, but it’s still one of the most deadly of diseases. We need to change that.”

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