Diabetes and Cancer Have a Scary New Link

Doctor holding a tablet , perhaps a cancer or diabetes diagnosis

Doctor holding a tablet , perhaps a cancer or diabetes diagnosis | Source: iStock

Of all the modern maladies that impact Americans, cancer is probably the scariest. It’s fairly unpredictable, and can strike almost anywhere in the body — sometimes with few or no symptoms. You can live your entire life taking measures to lessen your odds of getting cancer, and it still might not be enough to ward off the disease. Now, researchers have found cancer has a scary link to another widespread and harmful disease: diabetes.

Though diabetes doesn’t stroke our fears in quite the same way a cancer diagnosis does, being told you’ve developed the disease can and will impact your life in big ways. Often, diabetes comes hand in hand with obesity — meaning there are likely a number of other health issues at play. And according to new research, when we get the diagnosis, it also means we’re more likely to need a visit to an oncologist.

A study published in CANCER, the peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society, has found that in the periods prior to and following a diabetes diagnosis, patients are more prone to developing cancers as well. That means that for some people, a life-altering diagnosis may come with not one but two swings of the mallet — resulting in a double-diagnosis.

The link between diabetes and cancer

Eighteen-year-old cancer patient Patrick McGill looks at a rack holding bags of chemotherapy while receiving treatment

Eighteen-year-old cancer patient Patrick McGill looks at a rack holding bags of chemotherapy while receiving treatment | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

According to Dr. Iliana Lega and her research team at the University of Toronto, recently diagnosed diabetics face elevated cancer risks for a couple of different reasons. One, they’re experiencing a period in which they’re going through testing that can uncover previously unknown tumors or other signs, and two, both diseases share similar risk factors which can cause them to simultaneously develop.

The study looked at more than one million adult patients and came to some sobering conclusions. “Individuals with diabetes were 1.23 times more likely to have been diagnosed with cancer in the 10 years before a diabetes diagnosis compared with individuals without diabetes,” a press release stated. “This supports existing hypotheses that shared risk factors may be contributing to both cancer and diabetes diagnoses,” said Dr. Lega.

“This supports existing hypotheses that shared risk factors may be contributing to both cancer and diabetes diagnoses,” said Dr. Lega, per the same press release. “There is excellent evidence that diabetes can be prevented and that metabolic changes leading to diabetes can be reversed with lifestyle changes. Similarly, diet and exercise interventions have also been shown to reduce cancer risk and improve cancer outcomes in the general population.”

So, lifestyle and behavioral factors play a big part in the development of both diseases, with diet and exercise being primary among them.

“Our findings are important because they underscore the need for further research that examines the impact of exercise and healthy diet on cancer risk specifically in patients with or at risk for diabetes.”

Preventative steps

close-up of a man checking his blood sugar

A man checks his blood sugar | Source: iStock

Though there are certain risk factors that are relatively easy to avoid — too much sun exposure, tobacco use, etc. — people do struggle to control their diet and level of exercise. As a result, obesity rates are sky-high and don’t look like they’re going to start dropping anytime soon.

There are a number of reasons for that, but the absolute best thing you can do, as an individual, is to cover your own bases. Make a workout plan, and stick to it. Formulate a dietary plan as well, and stay away from sugar and calorie-rich junk foods. The combination of eating tons of calories, little fiber, and forgoing exercise is the underlying cause for many of America’s most prevalent diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, and in many cases, cancer.

While the research from the University of Toronto is worrying (a double-whammy of diagnoses is unimaginable for most people), there are things you can do and measures you can take to put yourself ahead of the curve. Some people are going to be hit with disease no matter what they do, but most people can live longer, healthier lives if they put in the effort.

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