Diabetes: risk factor of pancreatic cancer

Diabetes can be a modifiable risk factor depending on the type. This means you can change your risk through behaviour and life style choices. Eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly can reduce your pancreatic cancer risk.

Why is your diabetes relevant to pancreatic cancer?

Type 2 diabetes increases your chances of pancreatic cancer. Reducing your body weight and alcohol consumption and exercising more often reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes. Type 2 and 3c diabetes can be a result of pancreatic cancer. Your GP should investigate the onset of diabetes, especially in combination with weight loss or lack of weight gain.

What is diabetes?

When we eat, our food is digested, and glucose (sugar) is produced. The amount of glucose in the blood is regulated by the hormone insulin. This hormone is produced in the pancreas. Insulin converts glucose into energy. If your body cannot make enough insulin or use its own effectively, you have diabetes.

What are the signs and symptoms of diabetes?

The main signs and symptoms, which are common to both type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes, are:

  • Urinating more often than usual, particularly at night
  • Feeling very thirsty
  • Feeling very tired/ fatigue
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Itching around the penis or vagina, or regular thrush
  • Slow wound healing
  • Blurred vision

For more information from the NHS website, click on the following links: type 1 diabetes symptoms and type 2 diabetes symptoms.

Different types of diabetes

There are many different types of diabetes. Type 1 and 2 are the most common.

Type 1 diabetes Begins in childhood and has genetic involvement. The body’s immune system attacks insulin-producing cells, and not enough insulin can be produced. People with type one diabetes are insulin-dependent
Type 2 diabetes Increasingly common. This often does not begin until adulthood. The pancreas does not produce enough insulin or has become resistant to insulin (cells do not respond to it).
Type 3c diabetes The pancreas cannot produce enough insulin because all or part of the pancreas has been resected (removed) or due to lesions or pancreatic cysts. Often misdiagnosed as type 2. Often leads to increased complications and greater requirement for insulin.

Click here to read Ali Stunt’s (Founder of Pancreatic Cancer Action) blog on her experience of having Type 3c diabetes.

Gestational diabetes Diabetes occurring within pregnancy when the body cannot meet the insulin needs of late pregnancy.

Why is this relevant to pancreatic cancer?

Type 2 diabetes can increase your risk for pancreatic cancer. This and type 3c can also be a result of the disease. Insulin resistance and raised blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetes cause inflammation which damages the pancreas. The relationship between pancreatic cancer and diabetes is complex, with type 2 being both a cause and response to pancreatic cancer.

Diabetes which is new and not associated with weight gain, may be a symptom of pancreatic cancer. Click here to see other symptoms of pancreatic cancer.

Obesity and Type 2 diabetes

Obesity and type two diabetes are linked. Obesity increases the chance you may get type 2 diabetes. See the NHS website for more information on risk factors for diabetes.

Obesity can also increase your likelihood of having pancreatic cancer (click here for more information).

It is important to note that Type 1 diabetes is not caused by obesity. However, controlling your weight may be a good way to decrease your chance of getting type 2 diabetes.

What can I do?

Type 2 diabetes is a modifiable risk of pancreatic cancer. This means you can take steps to reduce your risk. Reducing your body weight can help improve your body’s ability to use insulin effectively. This can help reduce your chance of having pancreatic cancer as well as type 2 diabetes. Follow the links for advice on how to lose weight and keep weight off (links to NHS website)

If you have diabetes caused by pancreatic cancer, it is difficult to control this with lifestyle choices. However, this can be controlled by taking Pancreatic Enzyme Replacement Therapy (PERT) and watching what you eat.

For more information, see our Diet and Nutrition booklet.

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Information Product № Published 15/10/2019
Last Updated 07/06/2021 Next Review Due 15/10/2022