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High blood sugar ‘raises the risk of pancreatic cancer’

Having high blood sugar could increase the risk of pancreatic cancer, research suggests.

A study of more than 25million people found the killer disease is more common in adults with hyperglycaemia.

This is common in both type 1 and 2 diabetes, and can also affect those who have suffered a stroke or are battling an infection.

Hyperglycaemia triggers the pancreas to produce abnormal amounts of insulin, a hormone which lowers our blood-glucose levels.

The increased pressure on the pancreas to keep up with the body’s demands may trigger cancer, experts believe.

Having high blood sugar could increase the risk of pancreatic cancer (stock)

‘Diabetes is one of the established risk factors for pancreatic cancer,’ lead author Dr Cheol-Young Park, the Kangbuk Samsung Hospital in Seoul, said.

His research team evaluated the incidence of pancreatic cancer based on fasting glucose levels from a national database. 

They found as the participants’ blood glucose rose, so did the rates of pancreatic cancer – one of the deadliest forms of the disease. 


Pancreatic cancer is usually diagnosed in its later stages, because symptoms are rare early on. 

Alex Trebek, like most others, was diagnosed in stage 4.

Three percent of people with stage 4 pancreatic cancer survive five years after their diagnosis. 

But Trebek says, against the odds, his tumors have shrunk 50% since he started chemotherapy. 


EARLIEST STAGES: Before it has spread, surgery is the preferred option, followed by chemo and/or radiation therapy.

BORDERLINE SPREADING: Some cancers have almost reached nearby blood vessels. In that case, doctors use radiation therapy and/or chemo in a bid to shrink the tumor to then remove it surgically.

LOCALLY ADVANCED: If the cancer has spread slightly, chemo and radiation therapy are used together. 

ADVANCED: For metastatic pancreatic cancer (i.e. cancer that has spread far from the original site, like Trebek’s), chemotherapy is the first-line option. 

Radiation therapy is often used in late stages of other types of cancers, but it has been ineffective with painful side effects in some pancreatic cancer trials. 

This was true for those with diabetes, pre-diabetes or otherwise normal blood sugar levels.

‘Our research implies early detection of hyperglycemia in health checkups and lifestyle modification to improve glucose profile might offer a critical opportunity for lowering the risk of pancreatic cancer,’ Dr Park said.

Pre-diabetes occurs when someone’s blood glucose is elevated more than normal but is not high enough to be diabetes.

A fasting blood sugar level of less than 100 mg/dL (5.6 mmol/L) is considered normal, according to the Mayo Clinic. 

If this rises to between 100 and 125 mg/dL (5.6 to 6.9 mmol/L), it is pre-diabetes.

A person is diagnosed with diabetes if they have a recording of 126 mg/dL (7 mmol/L) or more on two separate tests.

Diabetes affects 4.7million people in the UK, with 90 per cent having type 2, Diabetes UK statistics show.

In the US, 30.3 million Americans had diabetes in 2015, of which 29.05 million had type 2, according to the American Diabetes Association. 

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body loses its ability to respond to insulin. This is often associated with being overweight.

Type 1 is an autoimmune condition. It comes about when the immune system wrongly attacks insulin-producing cells. 

Pancreatic cancer is one of the most deadly forms of the disease.

In 2010/11, less than three per cent of patients in the UK survived five or more years after they were diagnosed, Cancer Research UK statistics show.

Only one per cent of patients survive for ten years, compared to 78 per cent for breast cancer and 98 per cent for testicular cancer.

Pancreatic cancer is often diagnosed late due to it not always causing symptoms in its early stages. 

The symptoms it does cause, such as weight loss and abdominal pain, may be dismissed for something else.

The pancreas is also ‘hidden’ at the back of the abdomen, which makes it difficult for doctors to feel in routine examinations and stops it being picked up in scans. 

Once diagnosed, surgery is only an option for around 15 per cent of patients.

Dr Steven Leach, director of the David M. Rubenstein Center for Pancreatic Cancer Research, told the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center: ‘The pancreas sits in a tricky location.

‘Major blood vessels, the bile duct and the intestine [are] all in the immediate neighborhood.

‘When the tumor involves these major blood vessels, it generally can’t be removed.’ 

Surgery to remove the pancreas can even trigger diabetes due to the body no longer having a source of insulin to lower its blood-sugar levels.