New warning over breast and colon cancer risk for diabetics

by Barbara Hewitt on October 3, 2013

People with diabetes need to be aware that they not only have an increased risk of developing breast and colon cancer but an even higher risk of dying from them, new research suggests.

Dr Kirstin De Bruijn of the Erasmus University Medical Centre in Rotterdam in the Netherlands, told the 2013 European Cancer Congress that previous studies have examined the association between diabetes and dying from cancer but death from specific types of cancer have not been well studied.

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This new research is the first to combine incidence and death from breast and colon cancer, while excluding all other causes of death.

‘Our meta-analysis is the first to combine incidence and death from breast and colon cancer, while excluding all other causes of death. We have investigated the link between diabetes and the risk of developing as well as the risk of dying from these cancers,’ said Dr De Bruijn.

Dr De Bruijn, a PhD student in the Surgery Department, and colleagues analysed results from 20 trials that had taken place between 2007 and 2012, involving more than 1.9 million patients with breast or colon cancer, with or without diabetes.

They found that patients with diabetes had a 23% increased risk of developing breast cancer and a 38% increased risk of dying from the disease compared to non-diabetic patients. Diabetic patients had a 26% increased risk of developing colon cancer and a 30% increased risk of dying from it compared to non-diabetic patients.

‘The results for breast and colon cancer incidence in patients with diabetes are consistent with other meta analyses. Furthermore, this meta-analysis shows a higher risk and a stronger association between diabetes and death from breast and colon cancer than previously reported,’ explained Dr De Bruijn.

Cancer patients who are obese and diabetic are an already more vulnerable group of individuals when it comes to surgery, as they have an increased risk of developing complications both during and after surgery. ‘Worldwide, the numbers of obese and subsequent diabetic patients are still increasing and it is a cause for concern that these individuals are at a higher risk of developing cancer and dying from it. Studies have already highlighted the increased risk of developing cancer for diabetics,’ explained Dr De Bruijn.

The meta-analysis completed is unique since it looks at the risks for breast and colon cancer while excluding all other causes of death and provides stronger evidence for the association between diabetes and the risk of developing and dying from these cancers.

Dr De Bruijn and her colleagues intend to follow up their work by investigating what effect other factors associated with diabetes have on cancer risk and death, such as the anti-diabetic medication, metformin, as well as insulin and the duration of diabetes.

‘It is extremely important that prevention campaigns on obesity and diabetes are intensified and that they also focus on children, to prevent them from becoming obese and developing cancer later in life,’ she concluded.

Professor Hans-Joerg Senn, scientific director at the Tumour and Breast Centre ZeTuP in St Gallen, Switzerland, described the research as ‘disturbing and highly important’ for the medical community, the public and politicians.

‘It highlights once more the importance of the negative interactions between lifestyle, metabolism, overweight and certain frequent types of cancers, such as here between diabetes, obesity and breast cancer as well as colon cancer. It is time for increased and more effective information and prevention campaigns, especially in the economically developed world, where caloric abundance is prevalent,’ he explained.


The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the DiabetesForum.com Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

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