Researchers have long suspected that there is a link between diabetes and cancer.
They have not been able to isolate a direct connection, and do not claim that either diabetes or cancer causes the other condition.
But they do know that if you have type 2 diabetes, you may also be at higher risk of developing cancer.
Cancer and type 2 diabetes share many of the same risk factors including:
• Being overweight
• Gender – overall, men are more likely to develop both cancer and diabetes than women
• Age – risks go up as you get older
• Race/ethnicity – African Americans and non-Hispanic whites are at higher risk of both cancer and diabetes
• Being inactive
• Drinking alcohol – more than one drink a day for women or two drinks a day for men increases the risk of both cancer and diabetes
Researchers suspect high levels of insulin (hyperinsulinemia) may contribute to the relationship between type 2 diabetes and cancer.
People who have type 2 diabetes develop resistance to the work of insulin, which normally acts like a key to open cells so they can take in sugar or glucose from the blood.
When insulin resistance develops, the body increases production of insulin to try to help the cells access the sugar they need for energy. This causes higher than normal levels of insulin in the body.
Insulin is also known to be active in encouraging cells to multiply, including tumor cells. So high levels of insulin in people with type 2 diabetes may be a risk factor in the development of cancer.
Little research has been done to study whether the same risk is present for people with type 1 diabetes.
If you have diabetes and also have cancer, your doctors may also face additional challenges in establishing a treatment plan to eliminate the cancer. Some treatments for cancer are known to affect blood sugar levels.
The American Diabetes Association recommends that diabetes may need to be monitored and treated more intensely to maintain safe sugar levels during cancer treatments.
For some people with type 2 diabetes, oral medications to control sugar levels may not be enough during cancer treatments.