Evidence emerges linking type 2 diabetes to cancer, but reasons remain murky

Diabetes is known to increase a person's risk of experiencing a number of health complications, including heart disease, kidney problems and visual impairment. However, new evidence suggests that the disease may also predispose a person to certain forms of cancer.

Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention surveyed nearly 400,000 adults from across the country. They reported in the journal Diabetes Care that there is a strong association between type diabetes and cancer in men and women.

The results showed that 16 percent of diabetic men had some form of cancer, compared to 7 percent of those without the disease. For women, 17 percent of diabetics had cancer, while just 10 percent of metabolically healthy females suffered from the disease.

Colon cancer and pancreatic cancer were the most common forms of the condition among men, while women primarily developed breast cancer.

The researchers pointed out that their findings do not mean diabetes causes cancer. The study only illustrated a correlation between the two diseases. However, the strength of the link does indicate that common causes could be at work. Further investigations may be needed to elucidate this connection.

Excessive blood sugar levels are one of the most likely explanations of any association between diabetes and cancer. High glucose has already been shown to damage tissue over time. This is the reason diabetics are more prone to heart disease, nephropathy and neuropathy. The damage caused by blood sugar may cause alterations to cells' genetic material, which can fuel the growth of tumors.

However, rather than being the cause of cancer, type 2 diabetes and tumors may both be influenced by other risk factors. Experts told NPR that age, weight gain, smoking and poor diets are all known to increase a person's chances of developing both diabetes and cancer independently.

Being overweight is the most common risk factor shared by the two conditions. Excess fat deposits is known to cause inflammation in tissue throughout the body. This simultaneously can make it resistant to the effects of insulin and promote abnormal cell growth, which often leads to cancer.

Still, the experts told the news source these hypotheses are nothing more than speculation at this point. The fact remains that the medical community does not have a firm understanding of why certain cancers would be so closely associated with type 2 diabetes.

Until the reasons behind the connection are more thoroughly understood, the most a person with type 2 diabetes can do is follow established advice for reducing cancer risk. This includes getting plenty of exercise, eating a nutritious diet and seeking regular cancer screening, particularly if the individual has a family history of cancer.

This may not alleviate the uncertainty a person with type 2 diabetes feels about their risk of developing cancer, but it can give them their best shot of avoiding the condition.