Diabetes and Pancreatic Cancer
Approximately 25.8 million people
in the United States, approximately 8.3% of the population, have diabetes.
It is estimated that 18.8 million have been diagnosed, but unfortunately,
7.0 million people, or over one fourth, are unaware that they have the
What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a disease in which the body does not make or properly
use a pancreatic hormone called insulin. Insulin helps the body utilize
glucose (sugar) efficiently. Normally, insulin allows glucose to enter
cells to be used for energy. In people with diabetes, either the body
does not produce enough insulin or the amount that is produced is not
fully effective. Instead of entering cells, the glucose remains in the
blood resulting in high blood glucose levels. High blood glucose can lead
to cell damage and long-term complications. Diabetes can cause major health
problems, such as high-blood pressure, blindness, kidney disease and neuropathy.
There are several types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes results from the
body’s inability to produce insulin and accounts for approximately 5%
of those diagnosed with the disease. Type 2 diabetes results from the
body’s failure to properly use insulin combined with insulin deficiency
and accounts for most diagnosed cases of diabetes in the United States.
Pre-diabetes occurs when a person’s blood glucose levels are higher than
normal, but are not high enough to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes. Approximately
79 million Americans are pre-diabetic. Other types of diabetes result
from specific genetic conditions, surgery, medications, infections, pancreatic
diseases and other illnesses.
How does diabetes relate to
Diabetes may be either a risk factor or a symptom of pancreatic
cancer. Pancreatic cancer is two times more likely to occur in people
who have diabetes than in people who do not have diabetes. In pancreatic
cancer patients who have had diabetes for less than five years, it is
unclear if the diabetes contributed to the cancer or if the precancerous
cells caused the diabetes.
Also, research has shown that recent onset of diabetes in people over
50 or a sudden change in blood sugar control in those who are already
diabetic may be a symptom of pancreatic cancer.
What foods may help
People with diabetes and cancer have special nutritional needs.
An individual can have a positive influence on his/her blood glucose and
overall health by choosing foods wisely. By eating well-balanced meals
in the correct amounts, individuals can keep their blood glucose level
as close to normal (non-diabetes level) as possible. The proper balance
of nutrients from food, medication, physical activity and nutritional
supplements are needed to improve blood glucose control, physical healing,
weight maintenance and quality of life. No single food will supply all
the nutrients a body needs, so good nutrition means eating a variety of
It is important to eat foods
from each group at each meal every day. Foods are divided into five main
- Fruits and vegetables (oranges, apples, bananas, carrots, and spinach)
- Whole grains, cereals, and bread (wheat, rice, oats, bran and barley)
- Dairy products (milk, cheese, and yogurt)
- Meats and meat substitutes (fish, poultry, eggs, dried beans, and nuts)
- Fats and oils (oil, butter, and margarine)
By eating foods from each food group
at every meal, an individual is likely to consume a proper balance of
all the nutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals)
that the body needs to function. Eating meals and snacks at regular times
is also necessary for controlling blood sugar levels.
The body uses calories from carbohydrates for energy and uses protein
to build lean body mass. Choosing foods with complex carbohydrates, such
as starch and fiber, may help in the control of blood glucose levels.
Fiber present in plant-based foods can help lower blood glucose and cholesterol
levels. Foods high in fiber include: bran cereals, cooked beans and peas,
whole-grain bread, fruits and vegetables. Eating high-protein foods at
each meal and snack also may help in the control of blood sugar. Healthy
choices are dried beans, peas, lentils, lean meats and low-fat dairy products.
Including small amounts of healthy fat may also help control blood sugar
levels. Foods high in healthy fats include: olive, canola and peanut oils,
olives, avocados, nuts and seeds and fatty fish such as mackerel, lake
trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna and salmon.
Should diabetics with pancreatic
cancer avoid eating all sugar?
No, unless this is the advice of a physician or dietitian. Cutting
all forms of sugar out of the diet will not result in the death of cancer
cells because cancer cells cannot be starved. Glucose is the basic food
source for all cells, including cancer cells and is provided by eating
foods containing carbohydrates. It may be necessary to avoid foods high
in simple sugars if the individual experiences problems with watery diarrhea
after eating such foods. Foods high in simple sugars include rich desserts,
ice cream, candy, sweetened drinks and fruits packed in syrup.
If the patient is experiencing weight loss unrelated to blood sugar control,
it may be caused by cancer induced weight loss, called cancer cachexia.
In this situation, chemical changes in the body cause the breakdown of
body fat and lean body mass to make energy for cancer and healthy cells.
It may be necessary to introduce another supplement into the diet. Consult
your doctor or dietitian to find out which supplement is right for you.
Who can help me create an
If you or a loved one has pancreatic cancer and diabetes, consider
consulting a registered dietitian (RD) who understands these two conditions.
A registered dietitian has expertise in how the body uses food and can
teach you how the food you eat affects blood glucose level and how to
coordinate diabetes medications and meal schedules. A registered dietitian
can also provide guidance about nutritional supplements that may be helpful
for patients experiencing weight loss related to the cancer.
Please consult with a physician for direction on the proper management
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