By: Dan Weiman for Diabetes1
Pancreatic cancer and diabetes both affect the health of the pancreas and insulin regulation. While the two are very separate conditions, there are some connections between the two diseases that can help us to better understand and treat the diseases.
Pancreatic cancer is known for being an extremely deadly form of cancer because it can develop and go unnoticed for a long period of time. There is no external exam a doctor can do to detect a tumor on the pancreas, so the disease often goes undiagnosed until it spreads to other parts of the body. In recent studies of the cancer, more information has surfaced. Doctors now believe that pancreatic cancer can be inherited like diabetes often is. However, pancreatic cancer is much less likely to be inherited as only 10 percent of all cases are considered genetic.
However, greater research into how pancreatic cancer occurs also brings science closer to finding the causes of diabetes. Recently, Dr. Terri Brentnall discovered that a gene known as “Palladin” could be held partially responsible for causing genetically inherited pancreatic cancer. High levels of the protein Paladin produces were also found in cases of pancreatic cancer not genetically inherited. The protein also helps to give certain cells their shape and other characteristics, and could affect the same cells that enable diabetes.
While we do know that those with diabetes have a heightened risk for developing pancreatic cancer, treatment for pancreatic cancer could now potentially lead to more cases of diabetes. In her method for people with the palladin gene, Dr. Brentnall first checks the pancreas using an endoscopic ultrasound, which is able to detect changes in the pancreas over time. If there are abnormalities, further tests are done to see if those abnormalities are cancer related. Finally, if cancer is detected, the pancreas is removed.
Naturally, removing the pancreas can result in a sort of man-made version of diabetes. While patients can go into full remission after the pancreas is removed, they must now be treated for diabetes, as their body can no longer make insulin due to the removal of the pancreas. If more successful work is done on identifying and treating the disease early, the number of diabetics could increase dramatically. It is estimated that 35,000 people this year will die of pancreatic cancer. If that number is decreased by this treatment, the number of diabetics will surely increase.