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It may not seem like these diseases are related, but they’re more connected than you think.

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If you have diabetes, you may already know that you’re more at risk for heart and kidney disease. But did you know that diabetes may also put you at a greater risk for cancer? Although it’s not clear that there is any cause-effect relationship between these two conditions, growing research suggests that shared risk factors between the two diseases may be to blame.

What types of cancer are diabetics more at risk for?

Type 2 diabetes has been associated with an increased risk of some, but not all, type of cancers. People with diabetes may be twice as likely to develop pancreatic or liver cancer. They may also be more at risk of developing colon, breast or bladder cancer than people without diabetes.

Does one disease cause the other?

There is no direct relationship between diabetes and cancer. One does not cause the other or vice versa. However, some of the risk factors that make a person more prone to developing diabetes may also put them at a greater risk of developing some cancers.

What are the shared risk factors between diabetes and some cancers?

Risk factors such as advancing age, obesity, poor diet and physical inactivity affect a person’s chances of developing type 2 diabetes. These same risk factors may also impact a person’s risk of developing some types of cancer. That’s why it’s important if you have diabetes to undergo cancer screenings as recommended by your doctor.

Are there other reasons that people with diabetes may be more at risk of developing cancer?

There may be but there’s not enough evidence to say for sure. Some research suggests that high levels of insulin may contribute to causing cancer. Also, high blood glucose is believed to “feed” cancer cells. Cancer cells have been shown to consume and metabolize glucose at about 200 times the rate of normal cells, termed the Warburg Effect. In fact, PET scans may detect cancer in the body by identifying areas of high glucose consumption.

What can you do to lower your risk?

While you can’t completely prevent either diabetes or cancer, there are steps you can take to lower your risk. One of the best things you can do is to lose weight if you are overweight or obese and to maintain a healthy weight. Following a healthy diet and exercising regularly will also help lower your risk of diabetes and some cancers. All of these steps will also help keep your heart healthier and may improve your health overall. Finally, it’s important to get routine preventative care. Get your blood glucose levels tested regularly and don’t miss recommended cancer screenings, such as mammograms and colonoscopies.


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Date Last Reviewed: December 13, 2021

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

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