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PCA’s research projects for 2020

Throughout 2020 and beyond, Pancreatic Cancer Action is excited to be collaborating with various groups to research the link between pancreatic cancer and diabetes. We will be funding and taking part in two research projects aiming to identify an opportunity for early diagnosis in patients with diabetes.

Early diagnosis is the key to pancreatic cancer survival and currently only 1 in 5 patients are diagnosed early enough for surgery, which is the only potential cure. There is also currently no screening test available for pancreatic cancer which makes it harder to diagnose at an early stage.

These research projects are very exciting because they aim to identify patients with diabetes that is caused by pancreatic cancer and could result in a much earlier diagnosis.

Much of the research into pancreatic cancer focuses on understanding the biology of the disease and potential treatment options. While this is important, survival of pancreatic cancer depends on early diagnosis and these research projects will allow the use real world patients and scenarios to diagnose pancreatic cancer earlier in a large group of patients.

Project one- Determining the difference between type 2 and type 3c diabetes

In the first project, Pancreatic Cancer Action is joining forces with a research team from the University of Surrey. This project will look at the patient records of people with diabetes who went onto get pancreatic cancer and those who did not. The aim is to find out as much as possible about the differences in diabetes caused by pancreatic cancer and those cases that are not.

We know from research evidence that people with diabetes have an increased chance of getting pancreatic cancer. We also know that diabetes can be a symptom of the disease. However, the majority of people with diabetes do not have pancreatic cancer or go onto get it.

Agz Lemanska, the lead researcher for the project, explained that pancreatic cancer is a relatively rare condition that does not always show symptoms in the early stages. However, many people with pancreatic cancer were diagnosed with diabetes before showing any other symptoms of the disease. “It is difficult for GPs to suspect or recognise pancreatic cancer. We want to contribute to the identification of risk factors and symptoms that when considered together could bring earlier diagnosis in pancreatic cancer.”

Results of the research could identify a group of patients with new onset diabetes that are at risk of pancreatic cancer. Patients diagnosed with diabetes who went onto develop pancreatic cancer are likely to have risk factors in common or may have presented to their GP with other symptoms that are could indicate pancreatic cancer. This may help GPs know when to refer a patient with diabetes for pancreatic cancer testing and increase early diagnosis in these groups.

Project two- Diabetes as an early stage indicator of pancreatic cancer

In the second project, Pancreatic Cancer Action will be partnering the South East Cancer Alliance and Bromley CCG to identify patients who may be at risk of pancreatic cancer.

Patients with newly diagnosed diabetes who agree to take part in the study will receive an experimental blood test and CT scan to test for possible pancreatic cancer. The research team will look at differences in patients who are diagnosed with the condition compared to those who are not. Differences such as age, weight and risks for pancreatic cancer, any other symptoms and blood test results will be compared to identify patients who are likely to be at a higher risk of the disease. If patients who are referred are confirmed to have pancreatic cancer, the study will have successfully identified a subgroup of patients that will benefit from early diagnosis.

This is also the first time that this blood test has been tested in primary care with referrals from patients GPs. If the blood test proves effective in identifying patients with pancreatic cancer, then it could provide a simple screening test for pancreatic cancer in patients with diabetes.

The research team are hopeful that results from this study will help to identify patients with new onset diabetes that may be caused by pancreatic cancer and offer a simple diagnostic test for GPs.

Why carry out these research projects together?

Carrying out both of these research projects carries several advantages. The first project will allow us to identify differences between patients with diabetes caused by pancreatic cancer and those who are not. This will support existing research into pancreatic cancer and diabetes and help GPs know which of their patients are at risk and should be referred for tests.

The second project can build on this evidence and use conclusions from the study to see if they apply in a real-world setting. This project also has the potential to diagnose patients earlier from its outset and may be replicated on a national scale.

To find out more about the projects click here