The onset of diabetes after the age of 50 could be an early sign of pancreatic cancer, a new study suggests.
Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest cancers, with an overall five-year survival rate of about 8%. Symptoms of pancreatic cancer include abdominal pain, weight loss and fatigue. Major risk factors include smoking, obesity, old age and family history.
The study, by Journal of the National Cancer Institute, followed nearly 50,000 African-American and Hispanic men and women above the age of 50 for about 20 years. None of the participants had diabetes or pancreatic cancer at the beginning of the study.
Of all the participants, the researchers identified about 16,000 who developed diabetes and about 400 who developed pancreatic cancer during the 20-year study period.
The individuals who developed diabetes were more than twice as likely to develop pancreatic cancer compared with those who did not develop diabetes.
Over 50% of the diabetic individuals with pancreatic cancer were diagnosed with diabetes within three years of being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. This suggests that the development of diabetes, especially later in life, could be an early sign of pancreatic cancer for some people.
But the chances of having pancreatic cancer are still slim, even for those who do develop diabetes after 50.
Pancreatic cancer affects over 55,000 people in the United States every year. About 80% are diagnosed at a late stage, after the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
The exact mechanisms linking diabetes with pancreatic cancer are still unclear.