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June 17th, 2010
01:14 PM ET

Diabetics at higher cancer risk

By Leslie Wade
CNN Medical Producer

Type 2 diabetes may increase the risk of developing cancer, according to a joint statement released by the American Diabetes Association and the American Cancer Society.

"The evidence is very strong, about a twofold higher risk of cancer among those with diabetes: liver cancer, pancreatic cancer and endometrial cancer. And to a lesser extent, diabetes looks to be a risk factor for colorectal cancer, breast cancer and bladder cancer," says Susan Gapstur, vice president of the Epidemiology Research Program at the American Cancer Society.

Some connections between the diseases are easier to decipher than others, researchers say. They looked at shared risk factors, biologic links, and the effects of drug treatment.

Both diseases are more common in those who are older, obese, physically inactive and have poor diets. These shared risk factors offer some explanation. Complex biology offers more clues.

"Some of the factors that may contribute to a cell becoming a cancer might include high insulin and glucose levels that result from diabetes," Gapstur explains.  That's to say, spikes in insulin and blood sugar levels at different times throughout the course of the disease. Hormone-like substances from fat are also suspected of playing a role in promoting cancer.

Scientists are also looking at the possible link between diabetes treatment and cancer, though the evidence is mixed. Some studies suggest that metformin, a common type 2 diabetes drug, actually lowers the risk of cancer. Other research seems to indicate that insulin treatment may increase the risk. Experts encourage patients to talk to their doctor if at very high risk for cancer, before making any changes in treatment.

So what can diabetics do to reduce their chances of developing cancer? "First and foremost, prevention is key," explains Gapstur. She stresses the urgency of adapting healthy lifestyle habits such as maintaining a healthy weight, eating a balanced diet, and getting plenty of exercise. And have a conversation with your doctor about cancer screenings because catching early signs of cancer may make all of the difference.

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Filed under: Cancer • Diabetes

soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. Norma

    My mother died of leukemia and was diabetic, and my sister was diabetic and had an inoperable brain tumor. I am a 21 year survivor of
    breast cancer and am also diabetic. Since I am very old, I must be doing something right.

    June 17, 2010 at 14:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Nathan

    I have sadly seen a lot of people die around my neck of the woods because of cancer and a lot but not all of them were over weight or obese so this makes sense now all we need is for more studies to be done to confirm if this is the real deal or not.

    June 17, 2010 at 16:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. anonymous

    AS though the list of complications were less for diabetics, few more added up to the list. I hope someone will find a cure for diabetes, this slow killing every moment suffering disease. Worse than having cancer! I don't know if educating yourself with these complications are good or depressing!

    June 17, 2010 at 16:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Ceci

    This is scary. What to do – what to do?

    June 17, 2010 at 17:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. doris cole

    what about the ones who have type 1 diabetes?
    are they at a higher risk also?

    June 17, 2010 at 20:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. paulie girl

    If only they were sure... I feel like we are experiments! My doctor keeps finding things I need meds for. I feel fine, I look fine, but I am diabetic, hypothyroid, have hypertension and high cholesterol and mitral valve prolapse. With calcium and niacin therapy I feel like I should be a freaking old woman. I know blood tests don't lie, but is all these meds really necessary? They are absoulutely clueless!!! The drug companies rule and if you live in the midwest like I do, the government released a ton of radiation and crap all over this area in the 40's and 50's. They have created the market the drug companies needed to profit!

    June 17, 2010 at 22:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Lynn Daniels

    That's because our medical world fails to find the infectious agents responsible for these disease process – because in many cases the two infectious agents are being transported together. The bacterial infection that usually causes appendicitis, when colonized in the liver, colonizes itself in the pancreas instead thus infecting/effecting the insulin – the virus that causes cancer is the same one the causes psorasis, Alzheimers, congestive heart failure, weight gain, kidney failure, etc. – it's choice for it's baseline colonization is the bile ducts of the liver where it is again infects/effects absorption – you wonder why, in many cases the cancer returns, they may remove a breast, kidney, other organs, etc. – but fail to find out where the real problem is – the bile ducts of the liver – the biggest filtering organ we have – "RACE FOR THE CURE" – if you truly want to cure these disease processes someone better start finding the infectious agents responsible instead of the "band-aid" treatments we currently offer!!!!!!!!!!

    June 18, 2010 at 06:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Pat

    I'm a Type 1 diabetic and I just wanted to point out and thank the author for stating Type 2 rather than just "diabetic." Too often we get lumped in with Type 2 diabetics when they are totally different.

    June 18, 2010 at 07:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. vishu lammata

    Liver and pancreatic cancers seem to be high among diabetics.They play a major role in regulating blood sugars.

    June 18, 2010 at 08:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Martha

    If another recent report of 1 in 3 people are "pre-diabetic", then cancer of all types may be on the rise if diabetes is the culprit.

    June 18, 2010 at 10:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. hasc

    I am a type 2 diabetic in good control. I have come to accept that everybody is eventually going to die from something. I generally keep my diabetes confidential because people tend to treat a diabetic like an invalid or a "failed person" . I despise the TV commercial where the guy holds up a glucometer saying "If you have diabetes, you know what this is.....it's your lifeline!" Surprise....diabetics are not all neurotic little wussies like as that advertisement would have us believe.

    June 18, 2010 at 13:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Kiki

    Lynn....your right...there are alot of bundled oppourtunistic co infectors......the best thing to do is a rotation of really potent anti-bac,vir,myco,parasitical/protozoal/amebic. herbs..... and boost your immunity.....also a blood sugar reducing regimine....some of these little things we do are also naturally chemo theraputic..............my fav resourse is pub med.....look into bitter melon leaf.

    June 20, 2010 at 12:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. carmen

    oh yes...i,ve heard pyerstilbene are important

    June 20, 2010 at 12:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. roni

    I've read a few excellent stuff here. Certainly worth bookmarking for revisiting. I surprise how so much effort you place to create one of these excellent informative web site.

    April 23, 2012 at 05:34 | Report abuse | Reply

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.