A new study suggests that radiation therapy in childhood may increase the risk of diabetes in later life.
The research, published online in The Lancet Oncology, claims that childhood cancer survivors who underwent radiotherapy that exposed their pancreas to radiation are almost three times more likely to develop diabetes in the future.
Scientists in France analysed more than 2,500 patient questionnaires and medical records from French and British people who were diagnosed with cancer at an early age but survived for at least 20 years after undergoing treatment.
They found that 6.6 per cent of patients who had been treated with radiotherapy as a child had developed diabetes by the age of 45, compared with just 2.3 per cent of those who had not undergone radiotherapy.
After working out exactly how the radiotherapy would have been applied, they established that risk of diabetes in later life only increased when the tail of the pancreas, which contains a type of cell involved in insulin production, was exposed to radiation.
The research also showed that the level of radiation was an important factor, with patients who received high doses of radiation to the tail of the pancreas in their childhood some 12.6 times more likely to develop diabetes within 20 years of completing radiation therapy.
Furthermore, the likelihood of becoming diabetic was also affected by the type of cancer treated, with data showing that 14.7 per cent of kidney cancer patients treated with radiotherapy had been diagnosed with diabetes by age 45, compared with an average of 3.1 per cent for other types of cancer included in the study.
The authors say the findings indicate that the pancreas is at risk during radiation therapy and should now be regarded as a “critical organ” when planning such treatment for cancer patients, particularly children.

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