Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC), which accounts for majority of pancreatic cancers, is one of the most lethal human malignancies. Most patients are diagnosed at an advanced stage after symptom development. Early diagnosis of PDAC in asymptomatic subjects is important to improve prognosis. Diabetes mellitus (DM) is a risk factor for PDAC, and DM, especially new-onset DM, has attracted attentions as a diagnostic clue to PDAC. However, the impact of DM as a diagnostic opportunity on the prognosis of PDAC is unclear. We here retrospectively reviewed 489 PDAC patients and compared the clinical characteristics and prognosis according to the opportunities for PDAC diagnosis. PDAC was diagnosed upon presentation of symptoms, such as pain and jaundice, in 318 cases including 151 DM patients, upon new-onset or exacerbation of long-standing DM in 53 asymptomatic patients, and upon incidental detection by medical check-up or follow-up/work-up of other diseases in 118 asymptomatic patients. Asymptomatic patients including those with DM had smaller tumors, earlier disease stage, and higher resectability rates than symptomatic patients. Asymptomatic patients diagnosed in association with DM had better prognosis (median survival time, 771 days) than those diagnosed due to symptoms (343 days, P < 0.001), and similar to those diagnosed by incidental detection (869 days). The survival advantage was not evident in symptomatic patients with DM-associated signs. In conclusion, patients diagnosed in association with DM at asymptomatic stages had better prognosis than those diagnosed with symptoms. DM-associated signs might provide a clue to the early diagnosis of PDAC among asymptomatic subjects.
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