Diabetes and Cancer

There are ways you can lower your risk for type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancers:

  • liver
  • pancreas
  • uterus
  • colon
  • breast
  • bladder

Researchers are trying to learn more about the link between type 2 diabetes and certain cancers.

What About My Risk?

Type 2 diabetes and certain cancers share some risk factors:

  • Age – As you get older, your risk for both type 2 diabetes and cancer goes up.
  • Gender – Overall, cancer occurs more often in men. Men also have a slightly higher risk of diabetes than women.
  • Race/ethnicity – African Americans and non-Hispanic whites are more likely to develop cancer. African Americans, Native Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, and Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders are at higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes.
  • Overweight – Being overweight can increase your risk of type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer.
  • Inactivity – Higher physical activity levels lower the risk of type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer.
  • Smoking – Smoking is linked to several types of cancer. Studies suggest that smoking is a risk factor for the development of type 2 diabetes.
  • Alcohol – Drinking more than one drink a day for women or two drinks a day for men raises the risk for both diabetes and cancer.

Lower Your Risks

  • Lose weight – If you are overweight, even losing 7% of your weight (15 pounds if you weigh 200 pounds) can make a big difference. Use the Body Mass Index (BMI) Calculator to find out how much weight you need to lose.
  • Eat healthy – Choose a diet with plenty of:
    • Fresh vegetables – The best choices are fresh, frozen, and canned vegetables and vegetable juices without added sodium, fat, or sugar. For good health, try to eat at least 3-5 daily servings of vegetables, including asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, eggplant, greens, peppers, snap peas and tomatoes. A serving of vegetables is ½ cup of cooked vegetables or vegetable juice; or 1 cup of raw vegetables.
    • Whole grains – A whole grain is the entire grain, which includes the bran, germ and endosperm (starchy part). Shop for cereals and grains that have the first ingredient with a whole grain such as bulgur (cracked wheat), whole wheat flour, whole oats/oatmeal, whole grain corn/corn meal, brown rice or whole rye. Try to include dried beans, legumes, peas and lentils into several meals per week. They are a great source of protein and are loaded with fiber, vitamins and minerals.
    • Fruits – Eat fruits that are fresh, frozen or canned without added sugars. Common fruits include apples, blackberries, blueberries, cantaloupe, dates, figs, grapes, oranges, pears and strawberries.
    • Choose healthier options:
      • Low-fat or non-fat dairy products – Choose fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk, non-fat yogurt (without added sugar), and unflavored soy milk.
      • Lean meats – The best choices are cuts of meats and meat alternatives that are lower in saturated fat and calories. Include fish and seafood, poultry without the skin, eggs and choice grades of meats trimmed of fat. Also, select dried beans, legumes, peas, and lentils.
      • Most importantly, be sure to watch portion sizes.
  • Stay active – Set a goal to exercise five days a week. Thirty minutes of brisk walking or a similar activity will work. You can even break it up into 3 10-minute blocks if it is easier to fit in your day.
  • Quit smoking – If you smoke, learn how you can quit. Prepare to quit by setting a date to quit, throwing away your cigarettes or asking others for help. Then choose a quitting strategy, such as going cold turkey, tapering off or working with your health care professional. If you don't smoke, never start.

Get recommended cancer screenings

  • Work with your health care provider to see what types of cancer screenings you should have. Your age and gender will help determine what screenings are recommended.

    Learn more about your risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

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  • Last Reviewed: September 4, 2013
  • Last Edited: December 30, 2013

Articles from Diabetes Forecast® magazine:

Diabetes Forecast