What is the Relation Between Diabetes and Cancer?

Written by - Reviewed by Consumer Health Digest Team

Published: Nov 14, 2018 | Last Updated: Aug 2, 2019

Diabetes and cancer are inextricably linked; discovering and managing this connection can improve and save the lives of people living with diabetes.

Relation Between Diabetes and Cancer

Detecting diabetes early and being aware of it; is vitally important – Images Shutterstock.com

Scientists based in Sweden and Manchester have discovered that individuals with diabetes are 31% more likely to develop cancer than the general population, and it is also more likely for that cancer to be fatal.

Therefore, detecting diabetes early and being aware of this link is vitally important, so that patients can be screened for cancer detection and early treatment.

When you eat food, the glucose from the food is released into your bloodstream and a hormone called insulin is produced to take the glucose from your blood and allow it to be used by your body.

Diabetes[1] is a condition where the body does not use insulin correctly, or does not make enough insulin to process the glucose in the blood.

When the blood has too much glucose in it, this can cause numerous and serious health problems.

The incidence of diabetes has doubled in the UK[2] over the last 20 years, making it a quickly-growing and important health issue for health professionals to manage.

Most people know about type 1 and type 2 diabetes, but do not fully understand how these diseases work or what it means for a person’s lifestyle.

Women who have had babies will also probably be aware of gestational diabetes, as this is usually tested for during the pregnancy.

However, there are also other types of diabetes that are less well understood, including diabetes that is linked to cancer or cystic fibrosis.

Health professionals do not fully understand the rapid rise in diabetes, but the link with obesity is a big factor.

As obesity increases, so too does type 2 diabetes. It’s also likely that the percentage of people in the population with diabetes is actually higher[3] than what reports show, since there are a lot of people living with diabetes who have not been diagnosed yet or who have been misdiagnosed.

How Are Diabetes and Cancer Connected?

Diabetes and Cancer Connected

Diabetes and cancer are linked in complex ways find what are the diabetes-associated conditions – Image researchgate.net

Diabetes and cancer are linked in complex ways find what are the diabetes-associated conditions – Image researchgate.net

Diabetes by itself is a serious health problem that can be fatal, and takes significant amounts of time and energy to manage.

Research has recently discovered that cancer and diabetes[4] are linked in complex ways, which makes diabetes management more complicated.

Scientists think that when there are large amounts of glucose in the bloodstream, this glucose can cause damage to the DNA. This can result in the development of tumours that can become cancerous.

A less-known type of diabetes called type 3 diabetes is connected to pancreatic cancer, and in many cases doctors misdiagnose this type of diabetes as type 2.

As a result, they may not screen the patient for cancer, and it may go undiscovered and untreated for long periods of time.

“The relationship between diabetes and pancreatic cancer is quite complex,” explains[5] Lynn Matrisian, from the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN).

She notes that “diabetes can be both a risk factor and an early symptom of pancreatic cancer.”

Different types of diabetes are linked to different types of cancer. For instance, type 2 diabetes is linked to pancreatic, liver, bowel, womb, breast, and bladder cancers.

In contrast, type 1 diabetes is primarily linked to cervical and stomach cancer.

Your doctor can screen you for the types of cancer you are most at risk of developing, depending on what kind of diabetes you have.

What Can Patients and Doctors Do?

Patients and Doctors Do

Discuss with your doctor about the connection between diabetes and cancer – Images Shutterstock.com

Discuss with your doctor about the connection between diabetes and cancer – Images Shutterstock.com

A solicitor specialising in claims for misdiagnosis and medical negligence[6] notes that health professionals and the public must be made aware of the link between diabetes and cancer, as the misdiagnosis of type 3c diabetes is not uncommon.

Without a correct diagnosis, patients cannot be treated accurately or in a timely manner.

A representative from the Swedish National Diabetes Register (NDR), Hulda Hrund Bjornsdottir, researched the connection between cancer and diabetes[7].

Explains that “with the number of people with type 2 diabetes doubling over the past 30 years our findings underscore the importance of improving diabetes care. Eating a healthy diet, getting plenty of exercise and maintaining a healthy weight are important factors in diabetes prevention. It’s also important for health professionals and the public to be aware of the link between diabetes and cancer.”

In addition to keeping a healthy weight, eating well, and getting a good amount of exercise, you should also avoid smoking and abstain from alcohol.

Cancer-screening is recommended for patients with diabetes, with a particular focus for those in groups more at risk[8] due to their advanced age, or those who are men.

Speak to your doctor about the connection between diabetes and cancer, and be aware of what screening you may be required to go through.

Related: The 10 Best Foods To Control Diabetes

Keep a healthy lifestyle and be aware of signs of illness, or what cancers you may be at risk of developing.

By managing your diabetes effectively and undergoing additional screening, you may be able to prevent cancer from being a complication of your illness.

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