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Link between obesity and Type 2 diabetes and pancreatic cancer identified


Keeping blood sugar in a healthy range may be key to reducing risk of pancreatic cancer. Image credit – University of British Columbia


CANCER DIGEST – Nov. 4, 2023 – Researchers have shown a direct link between high insulin levels associated with obesity and Type 2 diabetes to increased risk of pancreatic cancer.


The study by researchers led by Dr. James Johnson, at the University of British Columbia, appeared online Oct. 31, 2023 in the journal Cell Metabolism, and details the mechanism driving pancreatic cells to becoming cancerous.


"Alongside the rapid increase in both obesity and Type 2 diabetes, we're seeing an alarming rise in pancreatic cancer rates," co-senior author Dr. Johnson said in a press release. He is a professor and interim director of the Life Sciences Institute at UBC. "These findings help us understand how this is happening, and highlights the importance of keeping insulin levels within a healthy range, which can be accomplished with diet, exercise and in some cases medications."

While obesity and Type 2 diabetes have long been identified as risk factors for pancreatic cancer, the exact mechanism of how the conditions push pancreatic cells to becoming cancerous have been unknown.


In the study the researchers focused on pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC), which is the most common and most aggressive form of the disease. The 5-year survival rate is less than 10 percent. It is also the form of pancreatic cancer that has been on a rise paralleling the incidence of obesity and Type-2 diabetes, and if the trend continues, is expected to become the second leading cause of cancer deaths by 2030.


The study focused on pancreatic acinar cells, which are stimulated by insulin to produce enzymes that break down fat-rich foods for digestion. The research done in mice, revealed that high levels of insulin, fosters inflammation of these cells, and transforms them into a precancerous condition.


Their findings may have implications for other cancers linked to obesity and diabetes. Working with colleagues at the University of Toronto, Dr. Johnson, says similar links have been found between high insulin levels and breast cancer.


The researchers are now collaborating with investigators at the BC Cancer and Pancreas Center on a clinical trial aimed at helping patients diagnosed with PDAC to control blood sugar and insulin levels with the help of an endocrinologist.

Source: University of British Columbia press release

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