A link between potentially deadly pancreatic cancer and new onset diabetes has long been known. While the two conditions don’t always go hand-in-hand, the frequency rate has been enough for researchers to begin probing the connection between pancreatic cancer and the rare type 3c diabetes. A recent study has shed light on a biomarker that may someday lead to earlier detection and lifesaving treatment in diabetics who also happen to have pancreatic cancer.

In studying the connection between the two conditions, researchers found a hormone called Neuromedin U. This hormone decreases insulin levels in the body, essentially creating diabetic symptoms. Researchers have found that Neuromedin U is not typically created in the pancreas. It is believed to instead be produced and secreted into the blood by cells associated with early-stage pancreatic cancer.

The recent study is especially encouraging for a few important reasons. Firstly, the hormone may hold the key as to why people who are not obese present with diabetes later in life and are also estimated to be 20-fold more likely to develop pancreatic cancer within a short period after diabetes diagnosis. Secondly, the hormone may serve as a way for researchers to develop a tool for early detection of pancreatic cancer. This, in turn, could result in much more positive outcomes for patients with this disease.

The American Cancer Society estimates that some 53,000 people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the coming year. About 43,000 people will die from the cause in the next year alone. Very difficult to detect when it is in its earlier stages and nearly impossible to treat in later stages, pancreatic cancer is considered one of the deadliest form of the disease. The hormone Neuromedin U may someday soon serve as a way to open the door to earlier detection and more successful treatment.