Not only are people with diabetes - especially Type II diabetes - more likely to develop heart disease or kidney disease, people with diabetes also are at increased risk for cancer. The risk is highest for liver, pancreatic, colorectal, endometrial, breast and bladder cancer.
Researchers aren’t sure if that’s because abnormal insulin levels affect your cancer risk, or because of the other health problems that so often accompany diabetes, like obesity. Both diabetes and cancer are related to obesity, inflammation and increased blood sugar.
“When it comes to your health and cancer risk, it’s never just one thing,” says Erma Levy, a research dietitian at MD Anderson. “If your blood sugar levels aren’t stable over time, ultimately it takes a toll on your other organs.”
Fortunately, the same steps that you take to manage your diabetes also can help lower your cancer risk.
“The best thing you can do if you have diabetes is make sure your blood sugar levels are under control,” Levy says.
We talked to Levy about what people with diabetes can do to lower their cancer risk. Here’s what she had to say.
Some of the same dietary guidelines that help keep your diabetes under control can help lower your cancer risk. To manage your diabetes and lower your cancer risk, eat a plant-based diet rich in vegetables, fruits and whole grains. In addition, limit your intake of red meat and processed meat. To help keep your diabetes under control, be sure to have at least 14 grams of fiber per 1,000 calories. Whole grains, vegetables and fruits are great sources of fiber.
For both diabetes management and cancer prevention, it’s important to maintain a healthy weight. Obesity can increase your cancer risk.
The best thing you can do if you have diabetes is make sure your blood sugar levels are under control.
Exercise is an important part of both cancer prevention and diabetes management. The recommendations for both are the same. Aim for 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week. Set a goal to exercise five days a week. A half hour of brisk walking will be a great start. You can even break it up into three 10-minute blocks of time throughout the day.
Exercise along with a balanced diet will help keep your blood sugar under control as well as your weight, and keep your cardiovascular system healthy.
Watch your alcohol intake
It’s best to consume alcohol in moderation or not at all. Research shows that heavy drinking damages cells and can lead to cancer.
The National Cancer Institute recommends that women have no more than one drink per day and men no more than two drinks per day. A drink serving is defined as 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of liquor.
Alcoholic beverages are often high in calories as well, so make sure these drinks aren’t affecting your waistline.
Diabetes is a condition that should be taken seriously, but it doesn’t mean it can’t be managed. Controlling your diabetes is important to controlling your cancer risk and your overall health.
Request an appointment at MD Anderson's Lyda Hill Cancer Prevention Center online or call 855-668-8897.