Pancreatic Cancer, and Diabetes

The pancreas is the organ in the body that releases insulin. When cancer develops in the pancreas, it damages the tissue. Because of this, the pancreas may not be able to release enough insulin and can create an overall diabetic state.

It is not uncommon for someone with cancer to have elevated blood sugar (glucose) levels. Diabetes is simply high blood sugar. Your doctor may also call these glucose levels, but glucose and blood sugar mean the same thing. Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas that helps your body use and store glucose.

High blood sugar levels can occur when your pancreas does not produce enough insulin, or your body isn’t able to use the insulin properly. When this happens, your body is not able to use the sugar from food. Instead, the sugar stays in your blood, causing high blood sugar levels.

If you need help with pancreatic cancer diabetes management, follow these guidelines:

Will my pancreas function normally after treatment?

  • The pancreas cannot replace damaged cells with healthy ones.
  • Medications may provide the body with the needed hormones (insulin and glucagon) that the pancreas releases. Digestive enzymes can also be taken as a medication if the pancreas can no longer produce them.

What can I do to control my blood sugar levels?

  • Take medication as prescribed. Be sure to talk with your healthcare providers and/or your pharmacist if you have any questions about your medication.
  • Monitor your intake of carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are foods that break down to sugar in the body. Examples include bread, pasta, rice, fruit, milk, yogurt, potatoes and corn.
    • Speak with a registered dietitian or a certified diabetes educator about your specific carbohydrate intake recommendations.
    • Stay as active as possible. Exercise is very helpful when it comes to controlling blood sugar levels. Even a ten minute walk every day can help.
    • Check your blood sugar levels regularly throughout the day.

How do I check my blood sugar?

  • If you do not have a blood glucose meter, ask your doctor, pharmacist, or registered dietitian for information on how to get one.
  • Follow your doctor’s recommendations for checking blood sugar. For example, if the doctor says to get a fasting blood sugar every day, check your sugar before you eat breakfast in the morning. If the doctor says to check your blood sugar twice a day, then make sure you follow that suggestion.
  • The most important times to check your blood sugar are first thing in the morning, after meals and right before bed. If you are having problems controlling your blood sugars, consider checking your blood sugars more often throughout the day.
  • Your healthcare team can tell you how often and when you should check your blood sugars during the day.
  • When checking blood sugars, it is a good idea to keep a log. In the log record the time, blood sugar and medications taken to help determine trends.