Aug. 13 (UPI) -- Older adults with diabetes are nearly three times as likely to develop pancreatic cancer than the general population, according to an analysis published Thursday by JAMA Oncology.
The link between diabetes and pancreatic cancer increases to seven-fold for people with the relatively rare Type 3C diabetes, which is caused by pancreatic conditions, the researchers said.
The findings highlight the link between the diseases, and suggests development of diabetes could be an early precursor to cancer diagnosis, they said.
"Pancreatic cancer has been associated with the development of diabetes within 4 years before the cancer diagnosis in up to 20% of patients," the authors wrote.
About 35 million Americans have some form of diabetes, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates.
Up to 10% of people with diabetes likely have type 3C, which is linked to pancreatitis -- inflammation of the organ -- that affects its ability to help the digestive tract process food, according to a 2016 review published in the journal Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome and Obesity: Targets and Therapy.
Most forms of diabetes cause those with the disease to gain weight, but type 3C causes weight loss due to the pancreas' inability to break down nutrients from food, researchers said.
For the study, researchers from the Harvard School of Medicine reviewed health data on nearly 160,000 participants in the Nurses' Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study. The study participants ranged in age from late-40s to mid-70s.
Those with recent-onset diabetes had a three-fold risk for developing pancreatic cancer compared to the general population, while those diagnosed with diabetes earlier in their lives were nearly twice as likely to be diagnosed with the cancer.
Adults with long-term diabetes who experienced weight loss of one to four pounds -- a likely precursor of type 3C diabetes -- had a 25% higher risk for pancreatic cancer than the general population, the researchers found.
People who lost between 5 and 8 pounds after developing diabetes had a 33% higher risk, and those who lost 8 or more pounds had a 92% higher risk for pancreatic cancer than the general population.
Adults who developed diabetes later in life and lost up to 8 pounds were nearly four times as likely to be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer than the general population, and those who lost more than eight pounds were nearly seven times as likely to be diagnosed with the cancer.
The risk for pancreatic cancer is also higher for adults with diabetes who had a healthy weight, based on body mass index, when experienced weight loss, the researchers said.
"Recent-onset diabetes accompanied by weight loss was associated with a substantial increase in risk for pancreatic cancer and may represent a high-risk group in the general population," they wrote.
"Further elevation of risk was seen in individuals with older age, previous healthy weight and no intentional weight loss."