Pancreatic cancer is difficult to diagnose in its early stage and is one of the most lethal human cancers. Thus, it is important to clarify its major risk factors, predictive factors and etiology. Here, we focus on fatty infiltration of the pancreas and suggest that it could be a risk factor for pancreatic cancer. Fatty infiltration of the pancreas is observed as ectopic adipocytes infiltrating the pancreatic tissue and is positively correlated with obesity and the prevalence of diabetes mellitus, which are risk factors for pancreatic cancer. However, whether fatty infiltration is a major risk factor for pancreatic cancer has not been established. Recent clinical studies show there is a positive correlation between fatty infiltration of the pancreas and pancreatic precancerous lesions or ductal adenocarcinomas. Animal experimental studies also show an association between fatty infiltration of the pancreas and pancreatic precancerous lesions or ductal adenocarcinomas development. Syrian golden hamsters, which are sensitive to chemical carcinogens in the pancreas, develop fatty infiltration of the pancreas with age. The combination of a high-fat diet and a chemical carcinogen that induces a K-ras mutation increases the severity of fatty infiltration of the pancreas. Thus, fatty infiltration of the pancreas is suggested to promote pancreatic carcinogenesis via a K-ras activating mutation. It is assumed that increased expression of adipokines and of inflammatory and proliferation-associated factors elicited by fatty infiltration of the pancreas may contribute to pancreatic precancerous lesions or ductal adenocarcinomas development. Accumulating evidence suggests that in addition to suppression of Ras activation, methods to modulate fatty infiltration in the pancreas can be considered as a strategy for preventing pancreatic cancer.
Mika Hori, Michihiro Mutoh, Toshio Imai, Hitoshi Nakagama, Mami Takahashi