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Diabetes and Weight Loss Is a High Risk for Cancer

August 28th, 2020

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A just published study says adults with recent-onset diabetes who have lost weight – even as little as 1 pound – are at higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer. The greater the weight loss, the higher the risk.

Published online at JAMA Oncology, the study found that individuals with recent-onset diabetes who lost between 1 and 4 pounds had a 25% higher risk of pancreatic cancer, while those whose weight loss was more than 8 pounds had a 92% higher risk than those who had no weight loss.

When compared to those without diabetes, the risk of developing cancer was almost 7 times higher for those with the biggest weight loss.

That there’s an association between diabetes and pancreatic cancer is well known. Previous studies have shown that recent-onset diabetes and unintentional weight loss could lead to developing pancreatic cancer.

"The more novel finding here is that when both risk factors are combined, the risk is even greater," said Peter Campbell, PhD, scientific director of epidemiology research at the American Cancer Society.

The significance of these findings, according to the researchers, is that individuals with recent-onset diabetes accompanied by weight loss “may be a group for whom early detection strategies would be advantageous.”

“Pancreatic cancer is the third-leading cause of cancer-related death in the United States, with a 5-year survival rate of less than 10%,” wrote Chen Yuan, ScD, with the Harvard Medical School and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and his research colleagues.

“This low survival rate is largely associated with the diagnosis occurring at an advanced stage when the cancer is no longer curable.”

By monitoring high risk individuals, as is done with those having a family history of pancreatic cancer, the chance of detecting it early improves markedly and substantially increases the survival rate.

How aggressively this should be done for those with recent-onset diabetes and weight loss requires additional study, the researchers said.

However, “The coexistence of these symptoms should be recognized by clinicians given that both the relative and absolute risks for pancreatic cancer are high, particularly in individuals with healthy weight before weight loss or those who are not trying to lose weight through changes in physical activity or diet."

Photo by Kate

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