Diabetes and pancreatic cancer
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Type 2 diabetes, commonly known as diabetes mellitus, is a lifelong condition that has a worldwide presence.1,2 Apart from having complications of its own, it is also known to be a major risk factor for pancreatic cancer.1-3

Studies have shown that people who have had diabetes for five years or more are at a greater risk of developing cancer of the pancreas.2 This article will help you in understanding type 2 diabetes and its association with pancreatic cancer.

What is type 2 diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes occurs because the pancreas in your body either does not produce enough insulin or the insulin produced is not used effectively to convert the glucose in our body into energy. This results in the glucose accumulating in the blood, leading to high blood glucose levels.4 Type 2 diabetes occurs more commonly than type 1 diabetes, with an onset at about 40 years of age.4

What happens in pancreatic cancer?

The pancreas is a  gland situated behind the stomach that is responsible for the production of insulin and also takes part in the digestion process.5,6 In pancreatic cancer, the cells of the pancreas start growing abnormally and develop into a tumour. This may cause resistance to insulin or loss of insulin production, which may lead to diabetes or sudden change in blood sugar levels in patients who have had well-controlled diabetes.2,7 It is difficult to diagnose pancreatic cancer at early stages. The common signs of pancreatic cancer are jaundice, dark urine, light-coloured stools, pain in the back and upper abdomen, fatigue, loss of appetite and weight loss.5

What is the relation between diabetes and pancreatic cancer?

Research studies have shown that people who have had type 2 diabetes for more than 4-5 years are at a  higher risk of pancreatic cancer.1-3 Scientists have identified type 2 diabetes as a risk factor and prognostic factor for pancreatic cancer.1 In type 2 diabetes, the pancreas is already exposed to higher insulin levels for a number of years, indicating that insulin may be involved in the association between pancreatic cancer and diabetes.6

Some scientists working in this field have a different hypothesis. According to them, diabetes may be a sign of pancreatic cancer.6,7 There are instances in which pancreatic cancer was diagnosed at the same time or a couple of years after diabetes.6 Although it is debatable whether pancreatic cancer causes diabetes or diabetes causes pancreatic cancer, pancreatic cancer could be added to complications of diabetes.6,7

How are diabetes and pancreatic cancer managed?

You can manage type 2 diabetes as follows:2,4
  • A balanced diet with high protein and fibre content2
  • Regular exercise and staying physically active4
  • Regular check-up of blood glucose levels4
  • Taking oral anti-diabetic medications or insulin injections as prescribed4

The treatment of pancreatic cancer will depend upon the stage of cancer.

Some treatment options for pancreatic cancer are:5

  • Chemotherapy and radiation therapy alone or in combination.
  • Surgical removal of the pancreas either partially or completely. If the cancer has spread, surgery may need to be done to relieve the symptoms and improve the quality of life.
  • Treatment with biologic therapy that uses the body’s immune system to fight the cancer.6

Keeping your blood glucose levels under control is the key to managing your diabetes.4 You may achieve this with strict adherence to diet and exercise and keeping your weight under control.4 We hope that this article helps you in understanding how people with type 2 diabetes are at risk of pancreatic cancer.

Keep your blood glucose in control and help avoid complications like pancreatic cancer.


  1. De Souza A, Irfan K, Masud F, Saif MW. Diabetes type 2 and pancreatic cancer: a history unfolding. JOP. 2016 Mar;17(2):144-148.
  2. Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. Diabetes and pancreatic cancer [Internet]. [cited 2019 Dec 6]. Available from: https://www.pancan.org/facing-pancreatic-cancer/living-with-pancreatic-cancer/diet-and nutrition/diabetes-and-pancreatic-cancer/.
  3. Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. 6 things you need to know about diabetes and pancreatic cancer [Internet]. [updated 2017 Nov 14; cited 2019 Dec 6]. Available from: https://www.pancan.org/news/6-things-need-know-diabetes-pancreatic-cancer/.
  4. Cleveland Clinic. Diabetes mellitus: An overview [Internet]. [updated 2018 Oct 2; cited 2019 Dec 6]. Available from: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/7104-diabetes-mellitus-an-overview.
  5. National Cancer Institute. Pancreatic cancer treatment (PDQ®)-patient version [Internet]. [updated 2018 May 23; cited 2019 Dec 6]. Available from: https://www.cancer.gov/types/pancreatic/patient/pancreatic-treatment-pdq.
  6. Wang F, Herrington M, Larsson J, Permert J. The relationship between diabetes and pancreatic cancer. Mol Cancer. 2003 Jan 6;2:4. DOI: 10.1186/1476-4598-2-4.
  7. Diabetes.co.uk. Pancreatic cancer [Internet]. [updated 2019 Jan15; cited 2019 Dec 6]. Available from: https://www.diabetes.co.uk/diabetes-complications/pancreatic-cancer.html.

Loved this article? Don't forget to share it!

Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is for patient awareness only. This has been written by qualified experts and scientifically validated by them. Wellthy or it’s partners/subsidiaries shall not be responsible for the content provided by these experts. This article is not a replacement for a doctor’s advice. Please always check with your doctor before trying anything suggested on this article/website.