Diabetes and Cancer

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Diabetes and cancer are both very serious diseases that seem to have very different origins and effects on the body. People may be surprised to learn how much these two diseases actually have in common.

Most of the correlation appears to be between type 2 diabetes and cancer, rather than type 1 diabetes.

Here are some of the things cancer and diabetes have in common:


  • Risk factors like obesity, diet, and exercise. Being overweight makes a person more likely to develop diabetes and several different types of cancer, including cancers of the colon, brain, pancreas, kidneys, and breasts. Losing weight, doing regular exercise and eating a healthy diet can decrease the risk of getting either disease. Interestingly, diabetes has been associated with a slight decrease in the risk of prostate cancer.
  • Chronic inflammation: Low grade inflammation is a characteristic of both type 2 diabetes and cancer. This inflammation increases the production of free radicals that damage DNA and disrupt insulin function.
  • Hormonal excess: Estrogen in postmenopausal women is produced in body fat. Obesity can lead to excess estrogen which increases the risks of breast and endometrial cancers. Excess insulin in the blood due to insulin resistance (common in type 2 diabetes) increases the amount of both estrogen and testosterone, which are both associated with increased cancer risk.
  • Positive effects from weight loss surgery: The dramatic weight loss that occurs following bariatric surgery can often put diabetes into remission, and it may reduce the risk of developing cancer also. A study (Annals of Surgery, Sep. 21, 2017) showed a decrease in the risk of pancreatic cancer (54%), colon cancer (41%), and postmenopausal breast cancer (42%) in patients who had weight loss surgery.

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