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.
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.
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.
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.
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: