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Link shown between pancreatic cancer and fat hormone

4 January 2013

A study has uncovered a link between a fat hormone called adiponectin and pancreatic cancer, which may one day provide a marker for identifying individuals who have an increased risk of developing the disease.

The project, led by led by Dr Ying Bao of Harvard Medical School, pooled data from five large US cohorts, totalling some 360,000 participants. Among this group, 468 individuals had pancreatic cancer, had no other forms of cancer, and had provided a blood sample more than 12 months before their diagnosis.

When compared with the control group of over 1,000 individuals, analysis showed that those with pancreatic cancer had significantly lower levels of adiponectin in their blood at least one year before their diagnosis. This low level of the hormone was independent of other known risk factors for pancreatic cancer.

Adiponectin is a hormone made and secreted exclusively by fat cells called adipocytes. It helps regulate the breakdown of glucose and lipids and therefore has an impact on how the body responds to insulin.

"Because impaired glucose processing, obesity, and Type 2 diabetes have been linked to pancreatic cancer, adiponectin may decrease pancreatic cancer risk by favourably modulating insulin resistance," the researchers noted.

Writing in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, the researchers said: "Our data provide additional evidence for a biological link between obesity, insulin resistance and pancreatic cancer risk and also suggest an independent role of adiponectin in the development of pancreatic cancer.”

In an accompanying editorial article, Jianliang Zhang of Roswell Park Cancer Institute, New York, stated: "Currently most cases of pancreatic cancer are diagnosed at a late stage, contributing to high mortality rates. Adiponectin assessment may be used to prescreen patients with metabolic disorders such as diabetes for the detection of pancreatic cancer at an early stage."

Although the results were statistically significant, further research is needed to establish the exact association between the hormone and pancreatic cancer.

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