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Diabetes and cancer

Sometimes diabetes isn’t your only health concern.

If you have diabetes, you can be more at risk of developing certain types of cancer. It’s estimated that 1 in 5 (20%) of cancer patients have diabetes.

What is cancer?

Cancer develops when the normal workings of a cell goes wrong and the cells become abnormal. The abnormal cell keeps dividing making more and more abnormal cells. These eventually form a lump called a tumour.

Not all tumours are cancerous. A tumour that is not cancerous (a benign tumour) may grow but cannot spread to anywhere else in the body.

A tumour that is cancerous (a malignant tumour) can grow into nearby tissue. Sometimes, cancer cells spread from where the cancer first started to other parts of the body, and they may grow and form another tumour. This is called a secondary cancer or a metastasis.

Diabetes and cancer treatment

Some cancer treatments can affect your diabetes and make it harder to manage your blood glucose (blood sugar). In partnership with Macmillan, we’ve produced an information booklet for anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer who’s living with diabetes. With tips to help you cope with side effects of cancer treatment, it’s designed to help you deal with some of the questions or feelings you might have after your diagnosis and throughout your treatment.

If you already have diabetes your treatment is likely to impact it so it's important to talk to your healthcare team who can provide you with information and support. Sometimes, the treatment given for cancer, especially high dose steroids, can cause a person to develop diabetes. 

Diabetes and cancer risk

Type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer have some similar risk factors. Living with obesity and overweight increases the risk of developing diabetes and cancers of the gullet, bowel, breast, womb and kidney. Both Type 2 diabetes and cancer are more common in people as they get older.

Type 1 diabetes can lead to an increased risk of developing cancer of the cervix and cancer of the stomach.

Reducing your risk of cancer

By keeping to a healthy weight for your height, eating a healthy, balanced diet, keeping active and not smoking, you can help to reduce your risk of developing cancer.

Need to talk?

Finding out you have cancer can leave you feeling overwhelmed. It can be especially difficult if you’re already living with diabetes. You might be struggling to manage your diabetes alongside cancer treatment, or you might be feeling angry and alone. For specialist information and advice on all aspects of living with diabetes, you can contact our helpline for answers, support or just to talk to someone who knows diabetes.

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