Researchers have linked low levels of a hormone that’s secreted from fat cells with a significant increased risk of pancreatic cancer, a finding that could lead to earlier detection of or new treatment approaches for pancreatic cancer.
Using data from the Nurses’ Health Study, the Physicians’ Health Study, the Women’s Health Initiative, and 2 other prospective large-scale studies, the investigators compared blood levels of the hormone adiponectin in 468 study participants with pancreatic cancer with 1080 healthy matched controls. They found that overall, participants with pancreatic cancer had lower adiponectin blood levels than controls, 6.2 vs 6.8 micrograms per milliliter of blood. The same was true for men and women, and among study participants from all 5 large-scale studies. The report is published today in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
Adiponectin plays a key role in regulating glucose and lipid metabolism, and low levels of it are linked with having insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and being obese. Impaired glucose processing, type 2 diabetes, and obesity are known risk factors for pancreatic cancer. The researchers noted that the association between adiponectin and pancreatic cancer risk has been examined in several smaller studies, but results were contradictory.
Compared with the 20% of people in the study with the lowest adiponectin levels, the 20% with the highest levels had a 34% reduced risk of pancreatic cancer. The increased cancer risk was independent of other risk factors, including sex, age, smoking status, body mass index, diabetes, and physical activity levels. The link between low adiponectin levels and increased pancreatic cancer risk also was consistent among participants in all 5 cohorts studied.
Several mechanisms may account for adiponectin’s role in pancreatic cancer risk, the researchers wrote. The hormone promotes the production of anti-inflammatory cytokines, which could blunt the tumor-promoting effects of inflammation. Adiponectin also promotes programmed cell death.“Harnessing the antitumor effects of adiponectin may provide a novel therapeutic approach to cancer,” the researchers wrote.
In an editorial, Steven Hochwald, MD, and Jianliang Zhang, PhD, of the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, NY, wrote that “early detection by the assessment of adiponectin has the potential to improve the survival rates of pancreatic tumor patients.” They added that it’s “inviting to speculate that therapeutic interventions to increase the levels of circulating adiponectin may prevent the development of pancreatic cancer and/or improve the survival of patients with malignancy.”