• Cancer

    Mayo Clinic Minute: The link between diabetes and pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer is a leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S. That's because the disease often is hidden and doesn't cause symptoms until it has spread. But for a small number of pancreatic cancer cases, one clue can help doctors find the tumor early, while it's still curable. That clue is an unexpected diagnosis of diabetes.

Watch: The Mayo Clinic Minute

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This group of Mayo Clinic experts wants to help people survive pancreatic cancer. The key is early detection. And while there is no perfect screening tool, Dr. Michael Wallace and team have found a clue to help diagnose the disease when it's still curable with surgery. That clue is a diagnosis of diabetes.

"Many doctors who take care of patients with diabetes — primary care doctors in particular — may not even be aware that diabetes is a sign of early pancreas cancer," says Dr. Wallace.

The link between diabetes and pancreatic cancer is real but rather rare. In a small number of cases ...

"... the diabetes is actually being caused by the pancreas cancer," says Dr. Wallace. "And the key feature is that the diabetes appears where you wouldn't expect it."

For example, in someone who is maintaining or losing weight, someone who gets diabetes at an older age or in someone who uses tobacco.

"It is an opportunity to find the disease earlier when it's more treatable — more curable," says Dr. Wallace.