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Does Diabetes Increase Your Risk of Pancreatic Cancer?

December 14, 2023

If you have diabetes, you’ve probably been warned that you’re at higher risk of heart or kidney disease.

But could high insulin levels – which often occurs in people with type 2 diabetes – increase your risk of pancreatic cancer?

Here’s what the research (and our expert) says.

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Diabetes can be a risk factor OR a symptom of pancreatic cancer.

The connection between the two is clear. But which comes first?

“About 80% of pancreatic cancer patients have glucose intolerance or frank diabetes,” says Bret Schipper, MD, chief of Surgical Oncology at Hartford Hospital and The Hospital of Central Connecticut and director of Oncologic Surgery at the Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute.

“There is research showing that pancreatic cancer causes the associated diabetes. There is also data showing that a diabetic person is more likely to develop pancreatic cancer.”

Data suggests that tumors are often the cause of insulin resistance and diabetes in pancreatic cancer patients. And new research has shown that high insulin levels increases production of digestive enzymes. This in turn can cause inflammation and development of precancerous cells.

> Related: These 4 Foods Can Decrease Your Risk of Cancer

Most diabetics will never develop pancreatic cancer, but here’s when you should speak to a doctor.

Every year, more than 1 million people develop diabetes while 55,000 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

While it’s unlikely that a diabetic person will develop pancreatic cancer, it’s important to check with a doctor if something’s out of the ordinary.

“If someone is lean, exercises and develops diabetes out of nowhere or if they have a history of well-controlled diabetes that suddenly gets a lot worse, it should warrant further investigation into the underlying problem, which could include pancreatic cancer,” says Dr. Schipper.

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There’s no definitive way to reduce your risk of pancreatic cancer, but staying healthy is a start.

“The best course of action is to try to keep your diabetes well-controlled as well as continue to maintain a good diet and exercise,” explains Dr. Schipper.

If you notice major changes in your diabetes, such as new onset or major swings in your blood sugar control, it’s best to see your doctor.

“There are many other cancer risks, including smoking and obesity,” says Dr. Schipper. “Trying to maintain an overall good state of health is the most important.”

Interested in connecting with a cancer specialist?

Whatever type of cancer you may be facing and wherever you are in your cancer journey, the team at the Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute offers specialized expertise, advanced technology and convenient locations across the state.

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