Type 2 diabetes linked with an increased risk of dying from cancer

Research suggests that the risk of dying from any type of cancer is 18 per cent higher among people with type 2 diabetes, compared with the general population


24 January 2023

Type 2 diabetes, which requires people to regularly check their blood sugar levels, has been linked with an increased risk of cancer

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People with type 2 diabetes are more likely to die from any type of cancer than the general population, a study has suggested. While the reasons for this are unclear, it could be related to the prolonged raised blood sugar levels and inflammatory effects seen in type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes has previously been linked with an increased risk of developing cancer. However, the severity of the risk and how it affects mortality were unknown.

To learn more, Suping Ling at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and her colleagues looked at a database of more than 137,800 people in the UK, aged 35 or over, with type 2 diabetes.

The researchers tracked whether any of the participants were diagnosed with cancer, and the outcomes of their condition, from 1998 to 2018.

At the end of the study period, these outcomes were compared against people in the general UK population with the same type of cancer and other similar characteristics, such as age and weight. Figures for the general population were taken from the Office for National Statistics and included people with and without type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes aside, cancer causes around 1 in 4 deaths in the UK. Nevertheless, the results show that the participants with type 2 diabetes were 18 per cent more likely to die from any type of cancer compared with the general population.

Their risk of dying from colorectal cancer specifically or that affecting the liver, pancreas or endometrium, the tissue that lines the uterus, was around twice as high.

“People with type 2 diabetes are living longer and as a result their bodies are exposed to insulin resistance for longer, which increases their risk of cancer,” says Ling.

The results also show that breast cancer mortality was 9 per cent higher among the participants with type 2 diabetes. This increased by 4.1 per cent per year among the younger participants, defined as those aged 55 at the start of the study.

According to Ling, further research should assess whether people younger than 55 with type 2 diabetes are also at increased risk of breast cancer mortality and may benefit from earlier mammograms, which the national health services in the UK offer to women aged 50 to 70.

Mammograms in younger women aren’t always useful, however, as they tend to have denser breast tissue, which can lead to a misdiagnosis and unnecessary treatment, says Ling.

The study didn’t include people with type 1 diabetes. Other research suggests that they also have an increased risk of certain types of cancer.

According to Jonathan Stegall at The Center for Advanced Medicine, Georgia, the latest study should help doctors monitor people with type 2 diabetes for a potentially heightened risk of advanced cancer, he says.

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