An abnormal glucose metabolism occurs in up to 80% of pancreatic cancer patients shortly or a few months before the first clinical admission. Reasons for this abnormality are obscure. We investigated immunohistochemically the pattern of islets in 14 pancreatic cancer specimens and used 14 chronic pancreatitis samples and 10 normal pancreata as controls. To study the topographical relationship of these islets to the cancer, islets in four different arbitrary zones within and around the cancer were evaluated. Ten out of 14 cancer specimens showed a significant loss of β cells “p < 0.005” and eight of them also showed a significant increase of α cells “p < 0.005”, all of them from hyperglycemic patients. Most affected islets were found within zone 1 “intratumoral” and zone 2 “peritumoral”, to a lesser extent in zone 3 “acini close to tumor” and none in zone 4 “acini remote from tumor”. No comparable changes were found in chronic pancreatitis patients. The incidence of 72% with alteration of islets in our material correlates with the frequency of abnormal glucose levels in human pancreatic cancer patients. Our findings support the notion that islet cell abnormalities is likely caused by substances released from cancer cells.
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