Health and Wellbeing

Diabetes Awareness Week 2024

This week is Diabetes Week - a week to make some noise, raise awareness and shout about the things that matter to people with diabetes, shining a light on what it’s like to live with day in, day out.

Pancreatic cancer and diabetes are very closely linked, but exactly how remains unclear.

If a patient develops new-onset diabetes, which cannot be explained by lifestyle or diet (and they are not overweight), then it can be a symptom of pancreatic cancer.

Our 2022 campaign “Check Your Type” was focused on the fact that patients are often misdiagnosed as having Type 2 diabetes but instead have Type 3c diabetes caused by pancreatic cancer.

Type 3c diabetes develops when the pancreas stops producing insulin as a result of illness or a condition that affects the pancreas, such as cancer.

This campaign was built on our groundbreaking research with the University of Surrey and the University of Oxford. This research explored the relationship between diabetes and pancreatic cancer and whether there are signs that can help us detect pancreatic cancer early.

The study was the largest-ever investigation into the signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer, including weight loss, hyperglycaemia, and diabetes. It has identified the timelines for when they develop in relation to cancer. The study confirmed that it is possible to detect pancreatic cancer up to three years earlier, giving patients hope of an improved outcome.

Using this crucial research, Pancreatic Cancer Action achieved a significant change to NICE guidance that could save up to 3,000 lives a year.

NICE Guidance (NG17) covering the management and diagnosis of diabetes in adults was updated to include advice to help identify pancreatic cancer. This reads:

For people aged 60 and over presenting with weight loss and new-onset diabetes, follow recommendations on assessing for pancreatic cancer in the section on pancreatic cancer in the NICE guideline on suspected cancer: recognition and referral. [2022]

This means that patients should be referred for an urgent direct access CT scan (to be done within two weeks) or an urgent ultrasound scan if CT is not available to assess for pancreatic cancer in people aged 60 and over with weight loss and new-onset diabetes.

Research shows that new-onset diabetes has been identified to occur in up to 30% of pancreatic cancer patients and is something that can be detected in the presymptomatic phase. In some cases, this can be up to three years before the cancer is discovered.

As a result of our success in changing NICE Guidance for those with weight loss and new-onset Type 2 diabetes, the NHS is partnering with a cancer alliance to establish a new case-finding protocol for pancreatic cancers in patients with new-onset diabetes and weight loss.

This algorithm will identify these patients faster and speed up a diagnosis as not everyone will present at their GP practice. This life-changing work is a result of the initial seed funding we provided to the University of Surrey and University of Oxford. There are an estimated 850,000 cases of undiagnosed cases of Type 2 diabetes in the UK.

Having an existing diagnosis of diabetes can also act as a risk factor for pancreatic cancer. Insulin resistance and raised blood sugar levels in Type 2 diabetes cause inflammation, which damages the pancreas. In the long term, this may increase the risk of pancreatic cancer.

Diabetes can also occur following pancreatic cancer. The only potential cure for pancreatic cancer is surgery. This involves either a full or partial removal of the pancreas. After some or all of the pancreas is removed, people often develop Type 3c diabetes as no insulin is being produced following surgery.

This year, we want to talk about the health checks you need when you have diabetes.

This is especially important for pancreatic cancer survivors living with Type 3c diabetes. These tests check your average blood sugar levels and how well your heart and kidneys are working, as well as check-ups on your eyes and feet. The results will tell you and your healthcare team more about your diabetes and how it’s affecting your body, and help you make decisions on how to manage your condition.

Not enough people are receiving all the regular diabetes health checks they need. This is why we want to raise awareness of what they are and why they are so important. We want pancreatic cancer survivors living with Type 3c diabetes to live their life to the fullest, as they know too well how short life can be!