Research we fund

Pancreatic Cancer Action is committed to funding early diagnosis research projects.

Our research focus for 2020

Our past early diagnosis challenge award gave funding to researchers primarily working with biomarkers that has led to further investment from PCRF and Cancer Research UK. Throughout 2020 and beyond we are funding projects examining the link between diabetes and pancreatic cancer. Research is emerging in this area that suggests there may be an opportunity for early diagnosis of pancreatic cancer in patients with new diabetes.

Pancreatic cancer and diabetes are linked in multiple ways. Type 1 diabetes is associated with an increased lifetime risk of pancreatic cancer. Adult onset, type 2 diabetes is also a risk factor for pancreatic cancer.

However, type 2 diabetes in a patient without metabolic disorder or raised BMI (therefore of “normal” weight) is increasingly described as an important early symptom of pancreatic cancer. Type 2 diabetes in these patients is often a misdiagnosis of type 3c diabetes, associated with damage to the pancreas and loss of function. These patients may present with diabetes months or years before other symptoms develop and this link could present an opportunity for early diagnosis imaging and diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.

Read more about the two studies we are currently funding and how this research will improve early diagnosis and benefit patients:

Study 1: Determining the difference between type 2 and type 3c diabetes.

A retrospective study profiling patients who would benefit from pancreatic cancer diagnostic tests to aid early diagnosis.

In partnership with the University of Surrey, this research project would be a retrospective case control study (looking back at existing patients with and without a condition). The project involves examining the GP records of patients with diabetes who went onto develop pancreatic cancer and those who did not develop the disease.

Unfortunately we have made the decision to postpone Study 2 as a result of COVID-19, however we hope for it to resume later this year.

Study 2: Type 2 diabetes as an early stage indicator of pancreatic cancer

A prospective study establishing the success of a new blood test in diagnosing pancreatic cancer early

This project is a prospective study (following patients to see if they contract a disease), in partnership with the South East Cancer Alliance, to identify patients with diabetes who may be at risk of pancreatic cancer. Any patient in the study area (Bromley) diagnosed with type 2 diabetes during the previous two years who are not overweight or have experienced significant weight loss will be considered eligible for the study. These patients will be offered an experimental blood test and CT scan for possible pancreatic cancer

Presenting the research together

Carrying out these research projects carries several advantages. The first project in partnership with the University of Surrey is a relatively quick and inexpensive research project to complete and should give rapid results. Looking back on existing data will allow us to answer multiple research questions and feedback information to supporters in a fairly short timescale. It will increase the amount of evidence regarding the link between diabetes and pancreatic cancer and the results can help inform further work and recommendations for pancreatic cancer referral.

However, the first projects study type (case control study) does not always produce the best possible evidence. The second project type (cohort study) can use the conclusions from the first study and see if they apply to patients in a real-world setting.

These study types are slower and take longer to report results for supporters. However, the evidence they produce is of a higher quality and using the two projects together may reveal further areas of study, help inform diagnostic guidelines or identify a group of patients suitable for screening.