The Diabetes-Cancer Link

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Screen shot 2012 10 01 at 2.11.34 PM The Diabetes-Cancer Link

Because of elevated blood glucose and high rates of overweight and obesity, it may not be surprising that people with diabetes are at increased risk of developing cancer. What might be surprising is just how great the risk is. Here are some facts that I’ve taken from the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) website and a report, InDepth: the Diabetes-Cancer Connection, written by registered dietitian Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN, nutrition advisor to the AICR.

  • People with type 2 diabetes have approximately double the risk of developing cancers of the endometrium, liver, and pancreas.
  • Colorectal cancer, bladder cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and post-menopausal breast cancer are also more likely to strike people with type 2 diabetes.
  • Cancer patients with pre-existing diabetes are about 50 percent more likely to die.

Cancer and type two diabetes share some important risk factors, including excess body fat and inactivity. But there is likely more to the diabetes-cancer connection. Insulin resistance may influence cancer development because the higher insulin levels associated with type 2 diabetes may convert pre-malignant lesions into cancer cells. Additionally, many types of cancer cells have high numbers of insulin receptors. With insulin acting to promote cell proliferation, excess insulin may stimulate cancer growth. Inflammation may also exert influence. Chronic inflammation might lead to DNA damage because of an increase in the number of free radicals. Pro-inflammatory cytokines may also promote cancer development.

The diabetes-cancer link is an interesting area of research with many questions still unanswered. For more information, see Collins’ overview and stay tuned for upcoming research.

By Jill Weisenberger, MS, RD, CDE

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