Type 2 diabetes is a challenging diagnosis to deal with – and the complications of this common condition are many. People with diabetes have are at higher risk for heart disease, diabetic eye disease, kidney disease, stroke, peripheral artery disease, and nerve damage. What about diabetes and cancer? A new study shows that people with diabetes may be more likely to be diagnosed with some types of malignancy.
Diabetes and Cancer Risk
To look at the issue of type 2 diabetes and cancer, the American Cancer Society and the American Diabetes Association joined forces to examine the issue of diabetes and cancer risk through literature reviews. The results were intriguing.
They found that type 2 diabetes is associated with a higher risk of cancer – but not all cancers. In fact, people with diabetes have a lower risk of one type of cancer – cancer of the prostate. What’s not so good is type 2 diabetics have a higher risk of cancers of the bladder, breast, liver, pancreas, uterus, and colon. For other cancers, the results were equivocal.
Diabetes and Cancer: Why Are People with Diabetes at High Risk for Cancer?
Researchers don’t understand the exact reason the risk of cancer is higher in those with type 2 diabetes, but they have some theories. One factor that could explain it is the risk of both diabetes and cancer is higher in people who have certain risk factors and lifestyle habits such as not exercising, eating a poor diet, being overweight, and smoking. So, both conditions may be independently caused by bad lifestyle choices.
Another theory is that people with diabetes have higher levels of certain hormones and growth factors, such as insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) that increase the risk of cancer. There’s some science behind this. Studies show that pre-menopausal women with greater levels of IGF-1 are at higher risk for breast cancer. IGF-1 levels have also been associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer. Chronically elevated blood sugars also increase inflammation in the body, which can be a forerunner to cancer.
Lastly, some medications used to lower blood sugars could increase the risk of cancer in people with diabetes. There’s some evidence that insulin promotes the growth of cancer, possibly by elevating IGF-1 levels. On the positive side, the glucose-lowering drug Metformin seems to lower the risk of cancer.
Diabetes and Cancer Risk: The Bottom Line?
People with diabetes may be at higher risk for certain types of cancer. What does this mean in terms of health? It’s important to make the necessary lifestyle changes to not only lower blood sugars – but reduce the risk of cancer as well.
What steps can diabetics take to lower their risk? Stop smoking, eat fewer processed foods, and become more physically active. Lose those excess pounds that make blood sugar more difficult to control and increase the risk of cancer as well. Lastly, get regular cancer screenings including mammograms and colonoscopies. It could be lifesaving.
Family Practice News. July 2010. page 29.