Is there a link between diabetes and cancer?

Most people living with diabetes understand that the disease itself isn’t the only thing we have to worry about. A diabetes diagnosis also increases the risk of related health complications, such as cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, eye damage (retinopathy) and diabetic nerve damage (neuropathy).

But did you know that there also appears to be a link between diabetes and certain types of cancer? A lot more research needs to be done before medicine can pinpoint a precise connection between the two diseases, however, according to Diabetes UK, it is estimated that 20% of cancer patients also have diabetes. So, there certainly seems to be some type of relationship.

What is Cancer?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about one in three people are expected to have cancer in their lifetime. Cancer is also the primary cause of one out of every five deaths in the United States. But what exactly is cancer?

Cancer develops when the body’s cells stop functioning properly and become abnormal. Once cells have become abnormal, they divide creating even more abnormal cells. These cells eventually form a malignant tumor that starts localized but can quickly grow into nearby tissue and begin spreading to other parts of the body.

This is why it is so important to catch cancer early – before it’s allowed to spread.


The connection between diabetes and cancer

As stated earlier, there is still much that science needs to learn about the connection between cancer and diabetes, but research does point to a link between the two. Most notably, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) states that research shows a link between Type 2 diabetes and specific cancers, including liver, pancreas, uterus, colon, breast, and bladder cancers.

Why these connections exist is the big question.

Some researchers believe that the abnormal insulin levels and increased blood sugar associated with diabetes can elevate cancer risk. Others are exploring other health problems associated with diabetes, particularly the Type 2 form of the disease, including obesity and inflammation, both of which are also known to be associated with an increased risk of cancer.

Additionally, in a post by the MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas, Erma Levy, a research dietician at the center, states, “When it comes to your health and cancer risk, it’s never just one thing. If your blood sugar levels aren’t stable over time, ultimately it takes a toll on your other organs.”

This toll very well may come in the form of cancerous cells developing in the body’s organs. So, what can you do as someone living with diabetes to prevent this from happening? First, know the risk factors.


Cancer risk factors mirror those of type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer share specific risk factors. Some of these are not within your control. For example, the older we get the higher our risk for both Type 2 diabetes and cancer. Gender also plays a role with men more likely to develop both cancer and diabetes than women. Additionally, ethnic background can play a role in the risk of both diabetes and cancer.

But what about risk factors that are in your control? Obesity, living a sedentary life with limited physical activity, alcohol consumption, and smoking are all things that heighten the risk of both diabetes and cancer.

For those who have already been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, these factors play a major role in how effectively you’re able to control blood sugar and manage your disease.


Reduce the risk of cancer!

“The best thing you can do if you have diabetes,” continues Erma Levy, “is to make sure your blood sugar levels are under control.”

This makes perfect sense considering we just pointed out that many of the factors that elevate blood sugar also increase the risk for cancer. It’s simple. The better you manage your diabetes, the lower your risk of cancer becomes. Here are five ways you can minimize your personal risk.

  1. Keep weight under control

 According to the ADA, if you are overweight, even losing 7% of your weight (15 pounds if you weigh 200 pounds) can make a big difference in terms of lowering your risk of diabetes-related complications. The next two on our list can also go a long way to helping you shed excess pounds and control weight gain!

  1. Eat a diabetes-healthy diet

To manage diabetes and keep blood sugar under control, eat a primarily plant-based diet that is rich in fresh vegetables, whole grains, and fruits. Try to avoid processed and fatty meats, instead choose lean proteins such as fresh fish or grilled chicken breast. If you’re going to eat red meat, opt for leaner cuts. Also, be sure to watch your portion sizes. Those leafy green veggies can be gobbled up to your heart’s content, but make sure you don’t overdo it on other foods. Too many carbs won’t just elevate blood sugar, it can also contribute to weight gain.

  1. Stay active

Being physically fit is an important part of both diabetes management and cancer prevention. In fact, the recommendations for both are the same – aim for 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week. At first glance, it might seem like a lot, but divide it up into five days and you’re looking at about 30 minutes each day with two days off to recover. That’s totally doable.

  1. Drink in moderation

Too much alcohol can impact blood sugar. Research has also shown that excessive drinking damages cells and can contribute to the development of cancer. The National Cancer Institute recommends that women have no more than one drink a day, and men have no more than two drinks each day.

  1. Quit Smoking

We all know smoking can cause cancer. It can also do a number on your blood sugar management by elevating insulin resistance. If you’re still smoking, it’s time to quit. Smoking cessation products like Nicorette gum and NicoDerm patches can help. If that’s not enough, ask your doctor about programs that might help you kick the habit.



While more research needs to be done before we truly understand the link between diabetes and cancer, there is little doubt that some connection exists. The positive that can be taken away is that many of the things you do to control blood sugar and manage your diabetes – eating right, exercising, following your doctor prescribed medication plan – are also directly helping to reduce the risk of cancer. So, keep up the good work!


We hope you found this post informative and insightful. At Diabetic Warehouse, we’re committed to helping those with diabetes manage blood sugar with a complete selection of testing and treatment supplies at prices up to 65% less than those found at most pharmacies and suppliers.

Diabetic Warehouse is a trusted supplier of diabetes care products and accessories. For more information and to explore a complete range of products, including glucose meters and test strips, insulin syringes, pen needles, continuous glucose monitoring systems, and more, visit