Diabetes prevalence continues to rise. In 2012, 29.1 million Americans, or 9.3 percent of the population, had diabetes—up from 25.8 million or 8.3 percent in 2010. Diabetes, a disease that interferes with the body’s ability to make or use the hormone insulin, can cause a dangerous buildup of glucose in the blood.
Researchers have observed that diabetes seems to increase the risk of getting certain cancer types, including pancreatic, endometrial, and liver cancers. However, given the growing numbers of people with the condition, scientists are trying to determine what role diabetes plays in cancer development and what, if any, role cancer plays in increasing diabetes risk. In addition, complicating this cause-and-effect puzzle are variables, including obesity, lack of exercise, and poor nutrition, that are shared risk factors for both diseases and could independently contribute to cancer development.
In the summer issue of Cancer Today, contributing writer Stephen Ornes provided analysis of the overlapping biological mechanisms that these diseases share—as well as practical advice for patients with cancer and diabetes.
A person with Type 2 diabetes faces at least twice the risk for being diagnosed with liver, pancreatic, or endometrial cancers as people without Type 2 diabetes. In addition, the risk for breast, colorectal, kidney, and bladder cancers increases between 20 and 50 percent in people with Type 2 diabetes compared with those who don’t have diabetes. These risks have prompted some researchers to consider the value of cancer screening for some people with diabetes.
In addition, managing blood sugar levels is critically important for cancer patients. For example, high glucose levels can increase a person’s chances of getting an infection after surgery, and clinical trials often exclude patients with abnormal glucose readings. High doses of steroids, which are often administered with chemotherapy to lessen nausea, can spike blood sugar levels. Radiation can increase glucose levels as well.
Along with discussing these issues with their doctors, people with diabetes need to be especially mindful of eating well and getting enough exercise—all of which can be a challenge while undergoing cancer treatment. But this advice can help those with diabetes and cancer to avoid any possible detours while undergoing treatment.
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