Diabetes and cancer are different diseases. Both are complex, with multiple subtypes. Yet, numerous studies suggest the two diagnoses are closely linked in many ways. People with diabetes are more likely to be diagnosed with cancer than those without diabetes. In fact, diabetes, primarily type 2, is associated with increased risks for several cancers, including pancreatic, liver, uterine, colon, postmenopausal breast, and bladder cancers. Although type-2 diabetes is associated with a decreased risk for prostate cancer, it does not eliminate the possibilities of aggressive forms of prostate cancer. Meanwhile, people with diabetes have a higher risk of dying from cancer compared which those without the disease.
There are three possible links between diabetes and cancer:
1. Insulin Resistance
One possible link is associated with insulin resistance which is a hallmark of Type-2 diabetes. Insulin is a growth factor with predominantly metabolic action but it can have mitogenic effects that can lead to cancer.
2. High Glucose Levels
Researchers are also exploring the possible connection between high blood glucose and cancer. Cancer cells are adept at absorbing glucose from the blood with no need for insulin. Since cancer runs on glucose, high blood glucose levels may help fuel the growth of cancer cells.
The third suspect is inflammation. Diabetes is usually characterised by chronic inflammation, which increases production of free radicals that can damage DNA and induce cancer.
Because the diabetes-cancer link is statically significant and clinically important, a move towards a healthier lifestyle should be part of preventive measures to reduce the mortality and morbidity of both the diseases. The lifestyle changes might involve:
- Aim for a healthy level of body fat, especially at the abdominal area
- Eat a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans
- Limit red meat consumption and avoid processed meat
- Drink alcohol in moderation
- Exercise regularly and limit sedentary time
Besides the lifestyle changes, it would be necessary for diabetic patients to work with their health care providers to see what types of cancer screening are needed. At the Singapore Cancer Society, we offer cancer screening services such as pap smear screening, mammogram screening and FIT kit at no charge for eligible Singaporeans and PR. We also organise various talks on nutrition and cancer awareness for the public and cancer survivors. For more information, visit www.singaporecancersociety.org.sg.