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World Cancer Day 2023: High Blood Sugar, a Potential Risk Factor? Exploring Links Between Diabetes and Cancer | Health News

By Dr Navneet Agrawal

Cancer remains the most feared disease globally and according to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2018, it killed 9.6 million people, or one in six people, across the globe. Meanwhile, high blood sugar or diabetes is one of the most common lifestyle diseases, which left uncontrolled can impact our heart, kidneys, and other organs, and even turn fatal.  Few may be aware that people living with diabetes are perceived to be at major risk for developing specific kinds of cancer, though no direct link has been established conclusively. However, considering the life-threatening implications of both conditions, it makes sense to be aware of the consequences and take necessary precautions. Ahead of World Cancer Day 2023, which is on February 4, let’s check out the potential risk factors and ways to reduce the risk of cancer in diabetics.

Potential Risk Factors

Given the possible connection between diabetes and cancer, one must know the potential factors that are common in both conditions, particularly in Type 2 Diabetes (T2D). Some of them are: 

Increased insulin plus other growth factors: Elevated insulin levels in a person’s body are believed to inflate the risk of pancreatic, colorectal, endometrial, bladder, and postmenopausal cancers. 

Chronic inflammation: T2D and obesity could lead to chronic low-grade inflammation, a condition in which the production of free radicals disrupts insulin signalling. 

Obesity and overweight: Both conditions can predispose people to cancer due to the higher risk of insulin resistance and cell inflammation, among other reasons. 

Effects of hyperglycemia: High blood sugar levels could trigger a rise in free radicals as well as other reactive molecules that fuel the growth of malignant cells.

Five Ways to Manage Cancer with Diabetes

Here are five guidelines to reduce the risk of cancer, especially true for people with diabetes: 

1. Maintain a healthy level of body fat: Excess fat is linked to both diabetes and different cancers. Abdominal fat can cause insulin resistance, leading to higher blood glucose levels that raise the risk of inflammatory cytokines. In turn, cytokines released from adipose cells increase both cell inflammation and insulin resistance risks, which are linked with cancer. In losing weight, a loss of between two and eight kilos per month is recommended for greater benefits.

2. Eat more veggies, beans, fruits, and whole grains: A plant-based diet helps in lowering the risk of cancer. Plants contain high amounts of nutrients and dietary fibre that protect people from developing cancer. For example, dietary fibre is known for lowering colorectal cancer risk. Ideally, one should include 2.5 cups of non-starchy items along with various vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans in the diet. 

3. Limit red meat and all kinds of processed meat: As per some studies, the daily consumption of meat can increase the chances of colorectal cancer by 17%. Meat packed by salting, smoking or adding preservatives should also be avoided and substituted with legumes and fibrous foods. 

Also read: Cancer is diagnosed more in patients with type 2 diabetes, claims study

4. Avoid alcohol: The WHO recently clarified that even a limited intake of alcohol is not safe.  The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified alcohol as a Group 1 carcinogen and a toxic, dependence-inducing substance. Alcohol is believed to cause at least seven kinds of cancer, including common forms such as female breast cancer and bowel cancer. 

5. Shun sedentary lifestyles: Regular physical activity helps in lowering body fat, keeping diabetes in check and reducing cancer risks, especially endometrial, colorectal and postmenopausal cancers. At least 30 minutes of physical activity is recommended daily, which includes walking. This can then be raised to 30 minutes of vigorous and 60 minutes of moderate activity. 


(Disclaimer: Dr Navneet Agrawal is the Chief Clinical Officer, BeatO – a platform that provides personalised healthcare advice to its users. The views expressed in this article are those of the author. Zee News does not confirm this.)

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