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Diabetes after age 50 could be sign of pancreatic cancer, study says

While scientists do not know the exact cause of pancreatic cancer, they believe a diabetes diagnosis after age 50 may be an early sign, according to a new report.

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Researchers from the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California recently conducted a study, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, to determine the relationship between the two diseases specifically among African-Americans and Latinos.

“There are very few studies on diabetes and pancreatic cancer that include Latinos and African-Americans,” lead author V. Wendy Setiawan said in a statement. “Both groups have a high rate of diabetes and African-Americans, in particular, have a higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer relative to other racial/ethnic groups.”

For the analysis, the team followed about 50,000 African-Americans and Hispanics over age 50 for about 20 years. At the beginning of the trial, none of the participants had been diagnosed with diabetes or pancreatic cancer, which has a low five-year survival rate because most people are diagnosed at a late stage. 

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After reviewing the results, they found that about 16,000 of the subjects had developed diabetes and 400 had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer during the two-decade period.

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Upon further examination, they discovered that people who were diagnosed with diabetes between the ages of 65 and 85 were more likely to develop pancreatic cancer within three years compared to those without diabetes. 

In fact, Latinos were four times more likely to develop pancreatic cancer after developing diabetes, and African-Americans were three times as likely. 

“What we found is that, yes, diabetes is associated with pancreatic cancer in African-Americans and Latinos, but we also discovered that there is a different type of diabetes here, a late-onset diabetes that’s associated with developing pancreatic cancer within 36 months,” Setiawan explained. “The evidence suggests that late-onset diabetes may be an early sign of pancreatic cancer.”

While the scientists are still unclear about the factors that link diabetes with pancreatic cancer, they did reveal that there was no association between breast, prostate or colorectal cancer and late on-set diabetes. 

They now hope to continue their investigations and believe their findings can help detect pancreatic cancer early, especially among high-risk groups.

“Pancreatic cancer is a rare disease, but if you are diagnosed with late-onset diabetes, have a conversation with your clinician about your individual risk,” Setiawan said. “Early intervention could improve survival.” 

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