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Do breast cancer drugs raise the risk of type 2 diabetes?

Project summary

Drugs, called aromatase inhibitors, used to treat women with breast cancer can lower levels of a hormone called estrogen. Low estrogen levels has been linked to a greater risk of type 2 diabetes. Dr Fraser Gibb will use a large NHS database to find women with breast cancer who have been treated with, and not treated with, aromatase inhibitors to work out if the drugs can raise the risk of type 2 diabetes. This information could improve care for women with breast cancer and help them to lower their risk of type 2.

Background to research

We already know that having low levels of the hormone estrogen, triggered by menopause, can raise the risk of type 2 diabetes in women.

A group of drugs, called aromatase inhibitors, are used to treat women with breast cancer. They work by reducing estrogen levels, so scientists think that, in a similar way, these drugs may increase the chances of developing type 2 diabetes for women who take them. But we don’t yet fully understand if there definitely is a link, and to what extent their risk might increase.  

Research aims

Dr Gibb will use a large NHS database, which includes over 11 million people in the UK, to find out whether being treated with aromatase inhibitors does increase the risk of type 2 diabetes.

He will use the database to find women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, and find those who both have and haven’t been treated with aromatase inhibitors.

He’ll look at which of these women went on to develop type 2 diabetes between 2000 and 2018. And he will then establish whether taking aromatase inhibitors plays a role in increasing the risk of type 2 diabetes, taking into account other known risk factors, like age and weight. 

Potential benefit to people with diabetes

If this project shows us that there is a significant link between aromatase inhibitors and type 2 diabetes, it could lead to changes in care for women with breast cancer.

In the future, it could lead to better ways of preventing type 2 diabetes and monitoring risk in women with breast cancer, and help healthcare professionals to spot those with type 2 diabetes as early as possible.

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