High insulin levels are directly linked to pancreatic cancer, a new study suggests.
High insulin levels are common among people who have type 2 diabetes and obesity—two conditions that are known risk factors for pancreatic cancer.
The new study from the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Canada sheds light on how insulin and its receptors play a role in the development of pancreatic cancer, and therefore how type 2 diabetes and obesity ties into the picture.
Anni Zhang, the study’s first author, said she and her colleagues found that high insulin levels "directly contributes to pancreatic cancer initiation through insulin receptors in acinar cells."
"The mechanism involves increased production of digestive enzymes, leading to heightened pancreatic inflammation," she said in a statement.
The study showed that insulin plays a significant role in enabling the pancreatic acinar cells to carry out their normal function, but when at high levels, its increased action can unintentionally promote pancreatic inflammation and the development of precancerous cells.
The research centered on the most common form of pancreatic cancer, pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC), known for its high aggressiveness and grim 5-year survival rate of less than 10 percent.
Pancreatic cancer cases are increasing and PDAC is projected to rank as the second most prominent contributor to cancer-related deaths by 2030.
The study also "highlights the importance of keeping insulin levels within a healthy range, which can be accomplished with diet, exercise, and in some cases medications."
Janel Kopp, a co-author of the study, said she and fellow colleagues hope the findings can inform clinical practice and "help advance lifestyle interventions that can lower the risk of pancreatic cancer in the general population."
Ms. Kopp added that the research could also help researchers develop targeted therapies that can regulate insulin receptors to prevent or slow down the progression of pancreatic cancer.
The research team has since begun a clinical trial to help patients with PDAC control their blood sugar and circulating insulin levels.