Diabetes and Cancer: How The Two Are Connected

Diabetes and cancer are two of the leading causes of death worldwide. The mere mention of either disease can strike fear in anyone’s heart. It is because no one is immune from either disease. Young or old, male or female, everyone is at risk. The statistics released by the International Diabetes Federation reveals the growing threat of diabetes worldwide with 425 million adults affected by it in 2017. An additional 1,106,500 children were afflicted. The forecast for diabetes cases gets worse. The report suggests the number would go up to 629 million by 2045. 1

The figures for cancer are equally alarming. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cancer is the cause of 1 in 6 deaths worldwide. It accounted for 8.8 million deaths in 2015. The grim forecast for new cancer cases in the next 20 years points to an increase of almost 70%. 2

Yet what could be worse than diabetes or cancer? Perhaps, it would be the discovery of a possible link between the two conditions. While 1.6 million deaths every year can be linked to diabetes, it is important to clarify how the two may intertwine. 2

The Link Between Diabetes And Cancer

A report from the American Diabetes Association together with the American Cancer Society looked into the connection between diabetes and cancer back in 2010.3 Based on its findings, it appears their link shows an increased risk of certain cancers as a consequence of diabetes and its complications.

In The Case of Type 2 Diabetes

Hyperinsulinemia or the existence of high levels of insulin circulating in a person’s body may encourage the development of tumors. Hence, the risk factor for people who suffer from adult-onset or non-insulin dependent diabetes doubles for these types of cancers.

  • Pancreatic Cancer
    A study presented at the European Cancer Congress in 2017 suggests a diabetes diagnosis could be a warning sign for this type of cancer. Among the patients who took part in the study, it turns out 50% of cases were diagnosed earlier as type 2 diabetics. Moreover, they were already undergoing treatment to manage their diabetes. 4
  • Liver Cancer
    The risk of liver cancer for type 2 diabetics increases when additional risk factors are present. The risks include being overweight or obese, heavy alcohol consumption, as well as chronic viral hepatitis. 5
  • Endometrial or Uterine (womb) Cancer
    According to the American Cancer Society, women with diabetes quadruple their chances of acquiring this type of cancer. 6 The risk for colorectal, bladder, breast, and blood cancers among type 2 diabetics is less. The chances are between 20 to 50%. Even so, it is still cause for concern. On the other hand, the prevalence of prostate cancer among men diagnosed with type 2 diabetes is lower. 7

In The Case of Type 1 Diabetes

While the risk of cancer is higher among type 2 diabetics, type 1 diabetics are still susceptible for certain types of cancers. Findings from a study conducted back in 2016 revealed people with juvenile onset diabetes have a 25% to 50% increased risk for stomach, liver, pancreas, endometrial, and kidney cancers. 8

Results from the study of Medscape Medical News indicate a higher risk for the development of tumors in the stomach, liver, pancreas, and kidney for type 1 diabetics.9 The report provided an overall hazard ratio (HR) to compare the incidences between men and women.

  • Stomach: 1.23 in men, 1.78 in women
  • Liver: 2.00 in men and 1.55 in women
  • Pancreas: 1.53 in men and 1.25 in women
  • Kidney: 1.30 in men and 1.47 in women

The overall hazard ratios for gender-specific cancers were as follows:

  • 1.19 in men for prostate and testicular cancers
  • 1.17 in women for breast, cervical, endometrial, and ovarian cancers

Furthermore, the study reveals treatment for type 1 diabetes is not the reason behind the greater risk of patients. Hence, additional studies are required to identify the exact cause.

Diabetes and Cancer Share Several Risk Factors

The World Health Organization defines risk factor as a characteristic increasing an individual’s chances of developing a certain disease. Likewise, it can increase the chances of an injury.

Perhaps a more disturbing connection between the two diseases is the realization both share similar risk factors. The American Diabetes Association highlights what attributes would increase the chances of type 2 diabetes and certain cancers among patients. 10

  • Being overweight
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Habitual smoking and drinking alcohol

Additional risk factors include a person’s age, gender, and ethnicity.

Further study is necessary to establish a solid link between diabetes and cancer. Even so, the connection observed by studies to date cannot be ignored. Moreover, it should raise concern among those diagnosed with diabetes as it increases the risk of developing a certain type of cancer.

1. https://www.idf.org/about-diabetes/what-is-diabetes.html
2. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs297/en/
3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20554718
5. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/liver-cancer/causes-risks-prevention/risk-factors.html
6. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/endometrial-cancer/causes-risks-prevention/risk-factors.html
7. https://www.diabetes.co.uk/diabetes-complications/diabetes-and-cancer.html
8. https://www.diabetesdaily.com/blog/the-link-between-type-1-diabetes-your-risk-for-cancer-262336/
9. https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/859639
10. http://www.diabetes.org/are-you-at-risk/lower-your-risk/diabetes-and-cancer.html