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Type 2 diabetes linked to many cancers

September 2016

Findings support prevention that targets both conditions

Dr. Iliana Lega
Dr. Iliana Lega, the study's lead author

People with diabetes have a high risk of cancer diagnosis before and shortly after their diabetes is diagnosed, found a study led by WCRI scientist Dr. Iliana Lega. The findings suggest those at risk of diabetes should receive more cancer screening.

The study, published in the journal Cancer, examined the health records of one million patients over a decade, comparing those who were diagnosed with diabetes with those of the same age and sex who were not. The researchers found there was a 62 per cent higher rate of cancer diagnosis in the three months following a diabetes diagnosis.

Dr. Lega says the additional screening and appointments that follow a diabetes diagnosis could account for some of the increase. However, the study also found that diabetes patients were more likely to have had several types of cancer in the decade prior to their diabetes diagnosis. In particular, rates of pancreas and liver cancer were nearly tripled among people with diabetes. “There may be opportunities to catch or prevent those cancers earlier,” Dr. Lega said.

Previous research has shown that diabetes and cancer are linked, but it remains unclear how exactly the risk factors converge for both diseases. “Our study provides more detail about how those risks manifest in a large population over time, and suggests a role for enhanced cancer screening not only for all patients diagnosed with diabetes, but also for people who are at higher risk of developing diabetes,” Dr. Lega says.

Diabetes rates are increasing in Canada and many other countries. WCRI scientist Dr. Lorraine Lipscombe, the paper’s senior author, said the findings could predict higher rates of cancer in the future. She stressed the importance of addressing risk factors early. 

“We know that diabetes can be reversed with physical activity and lifestyle interventions in high-risk individuals, and it is possible that such interventions may not only reduce the risk of diabetes and vascular complications, but may also potentially reduce the burden of cancer population-wide,” Dr. Lipscombe said.

The researchers used data from the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences.


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