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 an analysis linking nearly a million patients with type 2 diabetes in Lombardy (Italy) and Belgium with recorded cases of pancreatic cancer.
The result 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.
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.
Incretins are 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.
Among patients who already had type 2 diabetes and were managing it with oral anti-diabetic drugs, the switch to incretins or insulin happened faster among diabetic patients who were subsequently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
In addition, a deterioration in their condition that necessitated them being switched to more aggressive anti-diabetic therapy with injections of insulin was associated with a seven-fold increased risk of being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
Pancreatic cancer is one of the most lethal cancers, partly because it is difficult to detect at an early stage and because there are few effective treatments for it.
Less than one per cent of people live for ten or more years after a diagnosis. In Europe around 104,000 new cases were diagnosed in 2012 and approximately the same number of people died from it.
Worldwide there were an estimated 338,000 cases of pancreatic cancer diagnosed in 2012 and 330,000 people died from it.