link between diabetes and pancreatic cancer?

What's the link between diabetes and pancreatic cancer?

Over 40% of people living with pancreatic cancer are also diagnosed with diabetes. We don't know why or how this happens, but understanding this link between diabetes and pancreatic cancer could hold a vital key to earlier diagnosis.

At the moment, there is no screening method for pancreatic cancer, but previous research indicates a link between diabetes and pancreatic cancer.

Our Research Innovation Fund is driving progress to find the breakthroughs people with pancreatic cancer desperately need, by supporting innovative new research into the causes, treatment, and detection of the disease.

The link between diabetes and pancreatic cancer

In 2021, we awarded Dr. Pui San Tan and Professor Julia Hippisley-Cox at the University of Oxford £99,940 for their exciting new project, which explores the link between pancreatic cancer and diabetes using machine learning. If successful, it could become a vital clinical tool to help GPs refer patients for scans earlier.

We’ve made a simple animation to break down how the study will work, and what it could mean for the future.

A brand new risk-based tool

By analysing millions of anonymous hospital records with machine learning, it is hoped that the team will understand how accurately they can predict the risk of someone developing pancreatic cancer following a recent diagnosis of diabetes.

This study is particularly important because, in the earlier stages of pancreatic cancer, symptoms are often vague or non-existent, making it extremely challenging to detect and diagnose.

Currently, not everyone with a recent diagnosis of diabetes is referred for a pancreatic cancer scan. The risk-based tool could be game-changing in identifying which patients with new-onset diabetes are more likely to develop pancreatic cancer, so they can be referred for scans sooner.

About the scientists

Dr. Pui San Tan is a data scientist at the University of Oxford. She will be supervised by Professor Julia Hippisley-Cox, a Professor in Clinical Epidemiology and General Practice who co-founded the database which the study will use.

Julia has extensive experience in developing risk prediction tools that have been used in NHS settings for the early diagnosis of cancer and other health conditions. She is also one of the lead researchers on Pancreatic Cancer UK’s Early Diagnosis Research Alliance.

Further exploring the link between diabetes and pancreatic cancer

In 2021, we also awarded Professor Eithne Costello at the University of Liverpool £100,000 for her study into the biology behind pancreatic cancer-associated diabetes.

There is evidence to suggest that certain types of tumours in the pancreas might cause diabetes. Costello and her team will be studying and comparing tumours that cause pancreatic cancer and those that don’t, to try to understand their molecular programmes. She hopes that this could result in the development of a blood test that will determine whether new-onset diabetes is being caused by pancreatic cancer.

Check out the links below to find out more about diabetes and pancreatic cancer.

Diabetes resources for health professionals

Managing diabetes if you have pancreatic cancer