Pancreatic Cancer Tied to Insulin Woes

Insulin Problems May Make Pancreatic Cancer More Likely

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on December 13, 2005
From the WebMD Archives

Dec. 13, 2005 -- A new study links insulin problems to greater odds of developing pancreatic cancer.

Insulin is a hormone. It's made by the pancreas and it's necessary for the body to be able to use blood sugar (glucose) for fuel.

Insulin resistance occurs when there are elevated levels of glucose despite the presence of insulin. The body becomes resistant to the insulin available and strives to make more in order to counter the elevated glucose levels. Insulin resistance can lead to type 2 diabetes.

The news about insulin and pancreatic cancer appears in The Journal of the American Medical Association. The National Cancer Institute's Rachael Stolzenberg-Solomon, PhD, and colleagues worked on the report.

Pancreatic cancer is the No. 4 cause of U.S. cancer deaths, states the American Cancer Society's web site.

Male Smokers Studied

Data came from a study of male smokers in Finland that looked for the future incidence of cancers.

More than 29,000 men took part in the study, which started in 1985.

Stolzenberg-Solomon's team focused on 169 men who developed pancreatic cancer. For comparison, they also included 400 randomly chosen men from the study who didn't develop pancreatic cancer. The men were followed until December 2001.

Key Information

The study hinged on blood samples given by the men at least five years before any of them were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Some of the men's blood samples showed higher levels of blood glucose, insulin resistance, and high insulin levels. Those men were more likely to later develop pancreatic cancer than those without insulin problems.

The odds of getting pancreatic cancer were worse for men with type 2 diabetes and the highest insulin levels. They were twice as likely to develop pancreatic cancer as those with the lowest insulin levels, the study shows.

The men's age, smoking status, and BMI (body mass index) didn't change the results.

Study's Limits

The study doesn't prove that insulin problems cause pancreatic cancer.

The researchers note that scientists disagree about which comes first: undetected pancreatic cancer or insulin problems.

The study only included male smokers. But the findings are consistent with other research that included women and nonsmokers, write Stolzenberg-Solomon and colleagues.

They add that while their results support the idea that insulin problems are connected to pancreatic cancer, confirmation is needed from other studies.

Prevention Possibility

Avoiding insulin problems "could possibly impact pancreatic cancer development, as well as other cancer and chronic disease," write the researchers. But they didn't test that theory.

How do you avoid insulin problems? Stolzenberg-Solomon and colleagues mention three lifestyle changes:

  • Lose extra weight
  • Increase physical activity
  • Improve your diet (such as eating less saturated fat, which is found in animal-based foods and some oils)

Show Sources

SOURCES: Stolzenberg-Solomon, R. The Journal of the American Medical Association, Dec. 14, 2005; vol 294: pp 2872-2878. American Cancer Society: "What Are the Key Statistics About Pancreatic Cancer?" News release, JAMA/Archives.
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