JUL 17, 2016 6:07 AM PDT

Are Diabetics More Likely to be Diagnosed with Cancer?

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham
As the incidence of type 2 diabetes continues to rise in the U.S., researchers have found a new alarming link: people with diabetes are more likely to be diagnosed with cancer before and after the diagnosis for diabetes. Is this a coincidence, or something more insidious? The research suggests a little bit of both.

   

Diabetes is one of the most common chronic disorders that is characterized by the body’s inability to regulate blood glucose levels. Type 2 diabetes is characterized by insufficient quantities of the natural hormone insulin. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 29 million Americans have diabetes. This figure is triple the amount reported in 1980. And of this number, about a quarter of diabetics don’t know about their condition.
 
Serious health complications tied to diabetes include heart disease, stroke, and cancer. This isn’t all that surprising considering risk factors for these conditions are very similar. In particular, obesity, inactivity, smoking and alcohol use are the main players in many types of cancer.
 
To systematically study the timing of between diabetes and cancer diagnoses, researchers from the University of Toronto analyzed data from over 1 million adult patients. With this impressive dataset, the team found people with diabetes were 1.23 times more likely to be diagnosed with cancer within 10 years preceding the diabetes diagnosis. Additionally, after being diagnosed with diabetes, patients were more likely to receive a cancer diagnosis within the span of 3 months.
 

While shared risk factors explain some of the link, other aspects remain unclear. For example, is there a biological connection between diabetes and all types of cancer? Or, perhaps diabetes treatment influences whether cancer will develop and when it will be detected.
 
Iliana Lega, first author of the study, suggests that timing could play a part in the double-whammy diagnoses. Patients who are being monitored for diabetes prevention and management are often under intense medial scrutiny. As such, it is more likely that a physician will spot a cancer that would otherwise go unnoticed. But the jury is still out on whether the diabetes or subsequent treatments cause the cancer to develop.
 
Nevertheless, the probability of a grim double-whammy underscores the need for better diabetes prevention as well as a fuller understanding of the link between cancer and diabetes. "There is excellent evidence that diabetes can be prevented and that metabolic changes leading to diabetes can be reversed with lifestyle changes. Similarly, diet and exercise interventions have also been shown to reduce cancer risk and improve cancer outcomes in the general population," said Lega.
 
Additional source: MNT, Diabetes and Cancer
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
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