Researchers have linked low levels of a hormone that’s secreted from fat cells with a significant increased risk of pancreatic cancer, a finding that could lead to earlier detection of or new treatment approaches for the disease.
The research, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute used data from the Nurses’ Health Study, the Physicians’ Health Study, the Women’s Health Initiative, and 2 other prospective large-scale studies in the USA.
The study compared blood levels of the hormone adiponectin in 468 study participants with pancreatic cancer with 1080 healthy matched controls. They found that overall, participants with pancreatic cancer had lower adiponectin blood levels than participants who did not have pancreatic cancer. The same was true for men and women, and among study participants from all 5 large-scale studies.
The study’s researchers said, “Our data provide additional evidence for a biological link between obesity, insulin resistance and pancreatic cancer risk and also suggest an independent role of adiponectin in the development of pancreatic cancer.”
Adiponectin plays a key role in regulating glucose and lipid metabolism, and low levels of it are linked with obesity, having insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Impaired glucose processing, type 2 diabetes, and obesity are known risk factors for pancreatic cancer. The researchers noted that the association between adiponectin and pancreatic cancer risk has been examined in several smaller studies, but results were contradictory.
Compared with the 20 per cent of people in the study with the lowest adiponectin levels, the 20 per cent with the highest levels had a 34 per cent reduced risk of pancreatic cancer. The increased cancer risk was independent of other risk factors, including sex, age, smoking status, body mass index, diabetes, and physical activity levels.
The researchers believe that there may be several mechanisms that account for the role of adiponectin in pancreatic cancer risk. Noting also that adiponectin promotes programmed cell death, the researchers thought that adiponectin may provide a “novel therapeutic approach to cancer.”
In an editorial in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Steven Hochwald, MD, and Jianliang Zhang, PhD, of the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, NY, wrote that “early detection by the assessment of adiponectin has the potential to improve the survival rates of pancreatic tumour patients.”