Glucagon/insulin ratio as a potential biomarker for pancreatic cancer in patients with new-onset diabetes mellitus

Cancer Biol Ther. 2009 Aug;8(16):1527-33. doi: 10.4161/cbt.8.16.9006. Epub 2009 Aug 13.


Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) is one of the most aggressive malignancies, with an overall 5-year survival rate of less than 5%. This dismal prognosis is largely due to the advanced stage of the disease at presentation, i.e., the late diagnosis. Therefore, early detection would have the potential to significantly improve the overall prognosis of PDAC patients. Diabetes mellitus (DM) has a high prevalence in PDAC patients and is frequently of new onset. The aim of this study was to analyze whether DM can be utilized as an early disease marker in PDAC. Quantitative RT-PCR analysis and immunohistochemistry for insulin and glucagon was performed in 22 PDAC and 16 normal pancreas tissues. Blood samples of 66 patients suffering from PDAC, 35 DM type 2 patients, and 29 healthy donors were analyzed for insulin, glucagon, C-peptide and glucose levels. Quantitative RT-PCR showed a two-fold increase of the glucagon/insulin ratio in pancreatic cancer tissues in comparison to the normal pancreas. By immunohistochemistry a shift in the expression pattern of glucagon and insulin, i.e., a higher glucagon/insulin ratio was found in PDAC associated islets compared to islets in the normal pancreas. Fasting insulin levels in PDAC patients were lower compared to DM patients. The calculated serum glucagon/insulin ratio was significantly different between PDAC and DM patients. At a cut-off of 7.4 ng/mU glucagon/insulin, pancreatic cancer induced new-onset DM could be discriminated from type 2 DM with 77% sensitivity and 69% specificity. In conclusion, the suggested serum glucagon/insulin ratio showed significant differences in patients with PDAC related DM and type 2 DM. Therefore, this analysis might help to identify PDAC in patients with new-onset DM in the age group at risk. Larger clinical trials have to confirm these findings.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / blood
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / genetics
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism*
  • Carcinoma, Pancreatic Ductal / blood
  • Carcinoma, Pancreatic Ductal / genetics
  • Carcinoma, Pancreatic Ductal / metabolism*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / blood
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / genetics
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Glucagon / blood
  • Glucagon / genetics
  • Glucagon / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Insulin / blood
  • Insulin / genetics
  • Insulin / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / blood
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / genetics
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Survival Rate


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Insulin
  • Glucagon