Diabetic women are at a higher risk of developing cancers than men

by Barbara Hewitt on July 24, 2018

Diabetes significantly raises the risk of developing cancer and for women the risk is even higher than men, new global research has found.

Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes elevate the risk in particular for leukaemia and cancer of the stomach, mouth and kidney but less so for cancer of the liver, according to the research which reviewed 47 studies involving almost 20 million people.


Researchers from the George Institute for Global Health, an affiliate of the University of Oxford, said that more research is needed into the role that diabetes plays in developing cancer and that their findings show the importance of sex specific research.

‘The link between diabetes and the risk of developing cancer is now firmly established. We have also demonstrated for the first time that women with diabetes are more likely to develop any form of cancer, and have a significantly higher chance of developing kidney, oral and stomach cancers and leukaemia,’ said study lead author Dr Toshiaki Ohkuma.

‘The number of people with diabetes has doubled globally in the last 30 years but we still have much to learn about the condition. It’s vital that we undertake more research into discovering what is driving this, and for both people with diabetes and the medical community to be aware of the heightened cancer risk for women and men with diabetes,’ Ohkuma added.

The research found that women with diabetes were 27% more likely to develop cancer than women without diabetes. For men the risk was 19% higher and the researchers also found that diabetes was a risk factor for the majority of cancers of specific parts of the body for both men and women.

Overall, it was calculated that women with diabetes were 6% more likely overall to develop any form of cancer than men with diabetes and there were significantly higher risks for women with diabetes for developing certain cancers.

The risk was 11% higher for kidney cancer, 13% higher for oral cancer, 14% higher for stomach cancer and 15% higher for leukaemia compared to men. However, for liver cancer, the risk was 12%lower for women with diabetes compared to men with diabetes.

It is believed that heightened blood glucose may have cancer causing effects by leading to DNA damage but co-author Dr Sanne Peters, said there are several possible reasons why women were subject to an excess risk of cancer including that they are in the pre-diabetic state of impaired glucose tolerance two years longer on average than men.

‘Historically we know that women are often undertreated when they first present with symptoms of diabetes, are less likely to receive intensive care and are not taking the same levels of medications as men. All of these could go some way into explaining why women are at greater risk of developing cancer. But, without more research we can’t be certain,’ Peters explained.

‘The differences we found are not insignificant and need addressing. The more we look into gender specific research the more we are discovering that women are not only undertreated, they also have very different risk factors for a whole host of diseases, including stroke, heart disease and now diabetes,’ added Peters.