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Bad Habits = Consequences: Type II Diabetes & Cancer in Women

November 05, 2013

Postmenopausal women are at risk for various cancers, but that predisposition may be augmented by diabetes. The Women’s Health Initiative Study demonstrated that the presence of type 2 diabetes in women age 50-79 increases the risk of gastrointestinal cancers specifically, including liver cancer, pancreatic cancer and colorectal cancer. The study involved over 145,000 women in this age group who were enrolled in the study in the 1990s. The data was collected through 2009 and compared between diabetic women and non-diabetic women.

The study found that diabetic women were more likely to be overweight with a higher BMI and waist-to-hip ratio. They were found to be less active, and have a higher calorie and fat intake. When the researchers looked at the risks of various cancers and "adjusted for" age, they found that diabetic women were more prone to certain types of cancer.

Diabetic women were more than four times as likely to develop liver cancer, almost double the risk of colorectal cancer, and 80 percent more likely to develop pancreatic cancer. For pancreatic cancer, the risk was higher for women requiring treatment with insulin or metformin. Similarly, those women who were diagnosed with diabetes when they were younger and had diabetes for more than ten years before enrolling in the study had more than double the risk of pancreatic and rectal cancers.

What can we do to lower our risk for cancer?The study tells us two very important things about our lifestyle choices and the consequences they entail for our health as we grow older. First, that our dietary habits and exercise habits have a significant impact on our risk of gastrointestinal cancers in addition to helping us lower risk of breast and ovarian cancers. Second, that it is extremely important to establish good habits at a young age and maintain a healthy weight in order to avoid risk factors for these gastrointestinal cancers.

While you should not alter your insulin or metformin use without first consulting your physician, changing your dietary habits and maintain a healthy body weight are effective changes to make. If you are diabetic, implementing these positive changes as soon as possible may help to prevent future cancers.

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