Teach Me

Diabetes and Pancreatic Cancer: Is There a Connection?

Pancreatic cancer and diabetes both involve that little tiny pear-shaped gland in your body called the pancreas. The pancreas plays an integral role in helping with digestion and regulating blood sugar. But how, if at all, are the two diseases connected?

Here, we look at their potential connection and what you can do to help control diabetes and reduce your risk for both diseases.

Diabetes and pancreatic cancer connection

Research shows people with diabetes tend to have some known risk factors for cancer, such as older age, obesity, poor diet and physical inactivity. And problems common in diabetes, such as too-high insulin levels and inflammation, can increase cancer risk.

If you have diabetes, this may be concerning to you, but Michael Choti, MD, division chief of surgery with Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center in Arizona, said not to be too concerned.

“It’s important to recognize that most patients with diabetes do not have and will not develop pancreatic cancer,” Dr. Choti said. “Bottom line: If you have diabetes, your risk of pancreatic cancer is very small.”

However, watch for new-onset diabetes

While the risk is low for those with diabetes, Dr. Choti said to watch for sudden changes, such as a new diagnosis of type 2 diabetes or sudden fluctuations in blood sugar levels for diabetics who previously had well-controlled diabetes.

“There is a connection between new-onset diabetes, in the first two years of a diabetes diagnosis, and pancreatic cancer development,” he said. “Statistics show that those who suddenly develop type 2 diabetes are more likely to have pancreatic cancer than the general population or those who have long-standing diabetes (two years or more). This would suggest that for a very small number of patients, diabetes could be a sign of pancreatic cancer.”

Be vigilant

So, what can you do? Stay on top of your health and watch for sudden changes. If you are in good health and suddenly develop diabetes or your diabetes suddenly gets worse out of nowhere, check with your doctor to see if there is an underlying cause.

Reduce your risk

While it may be a challenge to reduce your risk for diabetes and pancreatic cancer, there are things you can do to lower your risk for both: They are healthy eating and maintaining a healthy body weight.

If you are struggling to maintain your weight or manage your diabetes, don’t make any drastic changes to your diet without first speaking with your doctor, dietician or diabetes nurse. Banner Health has several programs and services available, including:

To learn more about pancreatic cancer, your potential risk factors and treatment options, visit Banner MD Anderson at bannerhealth.com.

Other useful articles

Women's Health Men's Health Gastroenterology Cancer