Australian scientists have published findings that show a link between two feared diseases, diabetes and pancreatic cancer.
A University of Melbourne research team made up of clinicians and mathematicians analyzed data from 1973 to 2013 before concluding that the link appears to be time-dependent, according to Medical News Today. Their results appeared in the journal Annals of Surgical Oncology.
The American Diabetes Association reports that nearly 26 million adults and children — 8.3 percent of the U.S. population — suffer from one of the two types of diabetes. Of these individuals, 7 million remain undiagnosed. Among men and women at least 20 years old, the incidence of the illness is roughly equal. Undiagnosed diabetes cost the United States $245 billion in 2012.
Pancreatic cancer was responsible for an estimated 45,220 new U.S. cases and 38,460 deaths in 2013, according to the National Cancer Institute. One of the most feared types of malignancy, it’s responsible for 6.6 percent of all cancer deaths. The five-year survival rate between 2003 and 2009 was just 6.0 percent. An American male or female has a 1.5 percent chance of contracting this type of malignancy during his or her lifetime.
The Australian study was a huge undertaking involving the review of 88 international studies. Part of the urgency for the work was the fact that healthcare providers often diagnose pancreatic cancer at a stage when it’s impossible to cure and difficult to treat. The researchers concluded that when a patient has been newly diagnosed with diabetes with no obvious cause, doctors should consider the potential of underlying pancreatic cancer.
Findings reported that the risk of having pancreatic cancer was the highest following a diagnosis of diabetes. However, the risk remained elevated for a considerable time after that diagnosis. Overall, having diabetes represents only a modest risk factor for developing cancer later.
One potential action item to come out of the study is the need for screening programs. Dr. Mehrdad Nikfarjam, a liver, pancreatic, and biliary specialist on the staff of the University of Melbourne, indicated that ideally, this screening would eventually extend beyond individuals with new-onset diabetes to patients who have had the disease for a long time.
Nikfarjam points out that the prevalence of new-onset diabetes is greater in individuals older than 55 than in other age groups. He suggests that healthcare professionals should at least consider screening all patients newly diagnosed with diabetes for pancreatic cancer, especially those who lacked significant diabetes risk factors.
Vonda J. Sines has published thousands of print and online health and medical articles. She specializes in diseases and other conditions that affect the quality of life.