A Diabetes Diagnosis After Age 50 May Be an Early Sign of Pancreatic Cancer in Black, Latino People

The findings may help doctors identify more people at risk for the potentially deadly cancer.

A type 2 diabetes diagnosis after age 50, called late-onset diabetes, is a known risk factor for pancreatic cancer, and in Latino and African-American people with diabetes who are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer within three years, pancreatic cancer itself may manifest as diabetes.

That’s what a study published June 18 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institutesuggests, and the findings may help doctors identify more individuals at risk for pancreatic cancer, which has poor survival rates because doctors often don’t catch the disease early enough for treatment to be effective. Pancreatic cancer has a five-year survival rate of only 8.5 percent, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

For the current study, authors studied the incidence of type 2 diabetes and pancreatic cancer in nearly 49,000 African-American and Latino people older than 50. From 1993 to 2013, about 32 percent, or about 15,800, of the study participants developed diabetes. During follow-up, researchers identified an additional 408 pancreatic cancer cases.

Over the study period, about 20 years, they found that diabetes was associated with a twofold risk of pancreatic cancer. But when researchers stratified the data, they observed the risk for pancreatic cancer was even higher among participants diagnosed with diabetes in the previous three years (called recent-onset diabetes). Within that time period, Latinos were four times more likely to develop pancreatic cancer, and African-Americans were three times more likely.

“Our results suggest that late-onset diabetes can be used as a marker to narrow down who is in a high-risk group for pancreatic cancer,” says the lead study author, V. Wendy Setiawan, PhD, an associate professor of preventive medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. “Physicians should be aware that while the chance [of developing pancreatic cancer] is low, recent-onset diabetes could be an early sign of pancreatic cancer,” she adds.

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