Women's College Research Institute

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Breast-cancer survivors at higher risk for diabetes

Story from Connect, January 7, 2013

Post-menopausal women who have survived breast cancer have a higher risk of developing diabetes, according to research led by Dr. Lorraine Lipscombe, a WCRI scientist and WCH endocrinologist.

“We found that the risk of diabetes began to increase to a seven per cent higher risk two years after diagnosis, and rose to 21 per cent after 10 years,” says Dr. Lipscombe. “However women who had been treated with chemotherapy had a 24 per cent higher risk within the first two years of diagnosis,” she explains.

Dr. Lipscombe and her collaborators studied data from nearly 25,000 breast cancer survivors in Ontario, comparing their findings to a control dataset from nearly 125,000 cancer-free Ontario women.

Although the study illustrated a correlation between breast cancer and diabetes, the researchers still don’t understand the nature of the relationship.

“We do know that these two diseases share a number of common risk factors, including obesity and insulin resistance,” says Dr. Lipscombe.

Chemotherapy drugs may be directly involved in the increased risk, however Dr. Lipscombe and her colleagues currently suspect that steroid use is the more likely culprit. Steroids are often prescribed to help patients manage nausea, a common side-effect of chemotherapy. Steroids can cause weight gain, induce blood sugar spikes and contribute to insulin resistance – all of which contribute to the risk of developing diabetes.

“We feel it’s important to make women and physicians aware, to ensure breast cancer patients receive appropriate treatment during follow up cancer care,” says Dr. Lipscombe.

“The good news is that exercise and healthy diet can reduce the risk of both cancer and diabetes,” she says.


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