While most people are familiar with types 1 and 2 diabetes, there is a third, less common type, known as 3c, that occurs as a result of a pancreatic disorder – such as pancreatic cancer.

New research suggests that even doctors aren’t as familiar as they should be with the third type of diabetes, which leads to patients being misdiagnosed with type 2 diabetes rather than 3c.

“The relationship between diabetes and pancreatic cancer is quite complex,” said Lynn Matrisian, PhD, MBA, chief science officer at the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN). “Evidence has shown that diabetes can be both a risk factor and an early symptom of pancreatic cancer.”

Pancreatic cancer may cause only vague unexplained symptoms. Pain (usually in the abdomen or back), weight loss, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and/or eyes) with or without itching, loss of appetite, nausea, change in stool, pancreatitis and recent-onset diabetes are symptoms that may indicate pancreatic cancer. If you are experiencing one or more of these symptoms, we urge you to speak to your doctor immediately and reference pancreatic cancer.

Matrisian continued: “The results from this study are particularly important because patients with type 3c diabetes may respond to different treatments than type 2 diabetics.”

Interestingly, a correct diagnosis of type 3c diabetes can provide a clue to a doctor to look more closely for an underlying pancreatic tumor or other disorder. Around 0.5 to 1 percent of patients diagnosed with new-onset diabetes are diabetic because of an undiagnosed pancreatic tumor. Therefore, researchers are carefully evaluating this relationship as an opportunity to detect pancreatic cancer earlier.

“Last year, we at PanCAN offered a new Early Detection Targeted Grant to researchers, and the awardees’ projects focus on devising ways to detect the disease earlier in a cohort of people with new-onset diabetes,” Matrisian said. “Their studies aim to differentiate those who have type 3c from type 2 diabetes and to find pancreatic cancer that hasn’t been diagnosed yet.

“Diagnosing pancreatic cancer earlier improves patient outcomes and increases access to treatment options, including surgery,” Matrisian added.

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