patient having pinprick blood test

Pancreatic cancer testing for vital early detection

Identifying patients who have developed type 3C diabetes as early as possible is vital to improving pancreatic cancer survival rates.

In the UK, more people than ever before are developing and living with diabetes, with the vast majority of them having type 2 diabetes, which is not normally linked with pancreatic cancer.

However, people who develop type 3C - a lesser known form of the condition - are at a much higher risk of also having pancreatic cancer.

Our researchers are developing a new test that can pinpoint newly diagnosed people with diabetes who could be at risk of having pancreatic cancer.

Early detection is vital

The earlier cancer can be detected and treated, the more likely it is that the treatment will be successful.

Professor Dan Palmer is a Consultant Medical Oncologist at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre and a Professor in the Department of Molecular and Clinical Cancer Medicine. He said: “Around one in 10 people diagnosed with type 3C diabetes will have pancreatic cancer, so it is incredibly important that the right type of diabetes is identified as early as possible so that any cancer can be treated more easily and more successfully.”

It is very difficult to distinguish between the two types of diabetes. Symptoms of type 3C diabetes are similar to type 2 - thirst, tiredness, frequent urination and weight loss – and even health professionals are sometimes unable to tell the difference between the variations.

Identifying those most at risk

Professor Palmer is part of the UK-Early Detection Initiative (UK-EDI) research team – led by Professor Eithne Costello (Professor of Molecular Oncology) and funded by Cancer Research UK – which is aiming to develop and validate a test so patients with type 3C are discovered earlier and screened for pancreatic cancer as a high-risk group.

76-year-old George Stacey, a patient at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre is being treated by Professor Palmer. When George found himself drinking large amounts of water and losing weight, he thought they were signs of type 2 diabetes, which one in 10 people in the UK over the age of 40 now live with.

A blood test showed he had an extremely high blood sugar level. He was advised to go to A&E for evaluation and stayed in hospital for five days while checks were done. After a CT scan and other tests, George was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and type 3C diabetes.

After his diagnosis, George was given chemotherapy treatment at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre to shrink the tumours in his pancreas before having surgery to remove them at Royal Liverpool University Hospital.

He said: “I think I am very fortunate that the cancer was caught at the stage it was at. I was told that if I had left it even a short time later, the outlook for me could have been far worse.

“I would definitely urge anyone who is experiencing symptoms of diabetes to get checked out properly as it could be something much more serious. Everyone needs to be aware of changes that can be signs of cancer and contact their GP surgery straight away to have them investigated.”


The University is working with partners as part of the Cancer Research UK funded study called the UK-Early Detection Initiative (UK-EDI). This project, headed up by Professor Eithne Costello is exploring the link between diabetes and pancreatic cancer. This research is fully integrated with the Pancreatic and Liver Cancer Specialist Units at the Liverpool University Hospitals Trust and the Clatterbridge Cancer Centre.

Through collaborative working we are aiming to improve early detection times of diabetes which in turn will help to improve patient outcomes.

Through this research we hope to develop a diagnostic test for use in individuals newly diagnosed with diabetes, which will identify those most at risk of pancreatic cancer, allowing them to be screened. We already have a candidate blood test and research on this is rolling out nationally.

Professor Dan Palmer

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