Cancer and diabetes are two unfortunately common diseases affecting modern society. I’m not sure there’s many people in this world who can say they do not, or have not known someone with one or both of these diseases at the same time. For those who have cancer or diabetes, both are separately difficult to manage. When you or someone you love is simultaneously battling both, management of the two diseases becomes that much harder.
Diabetes and You
Along with the hardship the body is under from the cancer and its treatment, uncontrolled diabetes can lead to other complications such as kidney failure and cardiovascular disease. Keeping those complications at bay while cancer treatment is ongoing is very important. Understanding the management of blood glucose while undergoing cancer therapy can be very overwhelming but it can be easily handled with a little education.
Steroids and Blood Sugar
First off, cancer treatments commonly include steroids for nausea and other side effects, but steroids interfere with blood sugar. The problem with steroids is that they can cause blood sugar to rise. If glucose levels begin to rise during the course of treatment, if you have diabetes or not, speak with your doctor and registered dietitian who specializes in oncology nutrition to understand the best course of treatment to manage glucose levels. It is important to regularly check your blood sugar so you can help keep your numbers in the normal range.
Chemotherapy and Blood Sugar
In addition, certain cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy, can cause nausea and vomiting. And as we all know, nausea changes eating patterns causing us to eat less. With diabetes, this can be a difficult time to manage because vomiting after eating may cause a drop in blood sugar. Controlling the blood sugar lows is just as important as keeping the highs managed. When low blood sugar occurs after treatment, it may not be recognized because of the nausea. Dizziness, fainting, shakiness, mental confusion are also common signs and symptoms. If you have diabetes and are experiencing nausea and vomiting after chemotherapy keep glucose tablets or gel on-hand and follow the 15/15 rule. Also be sure to notify your doctor as soon as possible and speak with a registered dietitian who specializes in oncology nutrition. He or she may recommend small, frequent meals that are nutrient rich and high in calories.
As a general rule of thumb, when managing high and low blood sugar, it is important to pair carbohydrates with protein and fat. The protein will help to keep blood sugar relatively even and the fat will help with satiation. Otherwise, a nutritional shake such as Orgain — packed with essential vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, complex carbohydrates and protein — is a good alternative.
Tips for managing cancer and diabetes
- Speak with a registered dietitian that specializes in oncology nutrition (credentials RD, CSO should follow their name). He or she has completed extensive training in oncology nutrition and is qualified to provide the best individualized education and help in managing both diseases at the same time.
- Have your hemoglobin A1C levels checked. Hemoglobin A1C measures the average amount of glucose in the blood over a 3-month period. It is measured by a percentage. The American Diabetes Association recommends an average of less than 7%.
- Monitor and keep a journal of glucose levels at home. Observe patterns of spikes and lows, pay attention to how you feel at these times and seek ways to manage them.
- Keep up the nutrition. Eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa and wheat berries, and healthy fats from avocado, salmon, olive oil and nuts. Eat them together to help stabilize blood glucose.
For more tips, check out the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, 10 nutrition tips for managing cancer and diabetes.