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Diabetes and Cancer: The New Epidemic?

Dr. Hanish Gupta 91% (1915 ratings)
MBBS, DNB (General Medicine)
General Physician, Delhi  •  15 years experience
Diabetes and Cancer: The New Epidemic?

There was an era where we had deadly infections like plague and polio causing death of thousands of people. We still have occasional outbreak of swine flu, but by and large, infections are quite controlled. The new killer diseases are caused because of the lifestyle we have adapted and the damage we have done to the environment. High intake of processed foods, artificial chemicals in our foods, sedentary lifestyle with very minimal to no physical activity, couching over the computers; the list is quite long.

All these have led to diseases like diabetes and cancer that were not so common about say few decades ago:

Detailed observation has revealed that both these new epidemiologic diseases have a close correlation. There are factors, which induce diabetes and diabetes in turn and in some cases, diabetes inducing agents, can cause cancer also. It has also been observed that mortality is severely increased if diabetic patients are diagnosed with cancer. There are two types of diabetes. While type 1 is mostly hereditary, type 2 is lifestyle induced and the age at which this is being diagnosed is taking a severe plunge. Adolescents and teenagers are being diagnosed for diabetes. Cancer, on the other hand, is of various types (leukaemia, melanoma, myeloma, etc.) and can affect various organs (lung, breast, prostate, stomach, liver, etc.).

The medical community is yet to decipher the disease pattern of both these conditions. While there is no definite correlation between diabetes and all types of cancer, some types of cancer are definitely correlated with a definite reason identified, pancreatic and liver cancer for instance. The high amounts of insulin that diabetic patients are exposed to causes changes in liver and pancreas including fatty liver and cirrhosis, here the incidence of cancer is higher. The linkage is not very clear in lung and intestinal cancers and also there is no link between prostate cancer and diabetes.

Diabetes is considered as a state of chronic inflammation and leads to conditions like hyperinsulinemia (higher levels of insulin in the blood) hyperglycemia (higher levels of sugar in the blood). These are believed to aggravate the neoplastic process of cancer formation, thereby inducing cancer at a greater pace and also increasing the mortality rates.

The following are risk factors that are applicable to both age, physical activity, diet, obesity, drinking and smoking. It is also possible that onset of one can be followed by the other. As noted earlier, more detailed research is awaited to establish a definite linkage, but the correlation cannot be ignored at all.

Both these new epidemics are here to stay and since they have a common set of factors, we need to work on ways to contain them.

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