What links obesity and diabetes to pancreatic cancer?

Dr. James Johnson, professor in the Department of Cellular and Physiological Sciences at the University of British Columbia (UBC), commented on the findings, saying: “Along with the rapid rise in obesity and type 2 diabetes, we are seeing an increase alarming increase in pancreatic cancer rates. These findings help us understand how this happens and highlight the importance of maintaining healthy insulin levels through methods such as diet, exercise and, in some cases, medications.”

The study focused on pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC), the most common form of pancreatic cancer, known for its high aggressiveness and five-year survival rate of less than 10 percent. The incidence of pancreatic cancer is increasing, and by 2030, PDAC is expected to become the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths.

While obesity and type 2 diabetes have previously been identified as risk factors for pancreatic cancer, the exact mechanisms underlying this link remained unclear. This new study sheds light on the role of insulin and its receptors in this process.

Dr. Anni Zhang of UBC explained: “We found that hyperinsulinemia directly contributes to the onset of pancreatic cancer through insulin receptors on acinar cells. The mechanism involves increased production of digestive enzymes, leading to increased increased pancreatic inflammation.

While insulin is well known for its role in regulating blood sugar levels, this study emphasizes its importance in pancreatic acinar cells. The findings indicate that insulin plays a role in supporting the normal function of these cells in the production of digestive enzymes to break down high-fat foods. However, at high levels, it inadvertently promotes pancreatic inflammation and the development of precancerous cells.

This study may open the door to new cancer prevention strategies and therapeutic approaches targeting insulin receptors in acinar cells. The researchers also noted that these findings could have implications for other cancers associated with obesity and type 2 diabetes, where elevated insulin levels may contribute to the onset of the disease.

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