New insights into pancreatic cancer-induced paraneoplastic diabetes

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Up to 85% of patients with pancreatic cancer have diabetes or hyperglycaemia, which frequently manifests as early as 2-3 years before a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. Conversely, patients with new-onset diabetes have a 5-8-fold increased risk of being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer within 1-3 years of developing diabetes. Emerging evidence now indicates that pancreatic cancer causes diabetes. As in type 2 diabetes, β-cell dysfunction and peripheral insulin resistance are seen in pancreatic cancer-induced diabetes. However, unlike in patients with type 2 diabetes, glucose control worsens in patients with pancreatic cancer in the face of ongoing, often profound, weight loss. Diabetes and weight loss, which precede cachexia onset by several months, are paraneoplastic phenomena induced by pancreatic cancer. Although the pathogenesis of these pancreatic cancer-induced metabolic alterations is only beginning to be understood, these are likely mechanisms to promote the survival and growth of pancreatic cancer in a hostile and highly desmoplastic microenvironment. Interestingly, these metabolic changes could enable early diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, if they can be distinguished from the ones that occur in patients with type 2 diabetes. One such possible biomarker is adrenomedullin, which is a potential mediator of β-cell dysfunction in pancreatic cancer-induced diabetes.

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