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The Link Between Diabetes and Breast Cancer

Diabetes and cancer have preoccupied public health professionals and strained national budgets for years. Both diseases are associated with complications that may adversely affect quality of life. Both share risk factors such as age, smoking, weight gain, and a diet poor in fruits and vegetables.

Recent studies indicate, however, that the two may be linked in even closer ways than previously thought.It is estimated that 7% of the adult U.S. population has Type 2 diabetes. The most predominant type of diabetes, Type 2 accounts for 90% of all diabetes diagnoses. A full 15% of the adult population over the age of 60 has Type 2 diabetes.

Perhaps the most staggering statistic is that between 16% and 20% of all women with breast cancer have diabetes. The percentage of breast cancer patients with previously undiagnosed or underdiagnosed diabetes may be as high as 30%.

Published studies evaluating the effect of preexisting diabetes on breast cancer outcomes have found a 49% increase in the risk of death for diabetic women with breast cancer compared to non-diabetic women with the disease.

Several factors may contribute to the increased risk of death in diabetic breast cancer patients. These include delayed cancer diagnosis, sub-optimal cancer treatments, high levels of insulin in the bloodstream, diabetic medications, and the adverse effects of diabetes-related problems.  Because diabetics are often overweight, this may hamper breast cancer diagnosis as early signs of breast cancer may be missed. There are other metabolic changes that may also contribute to cancer being more aggressive in diabetics, as well.

Research is ongoing, and going forward we will learn more about how blood sugar levels, stress hormones, and even various treatments affect cancer.

In the meantime, the first line of defense is obviously to avoid the behavior that might lead to Type 2 diabetes.  Maintaining a proper diet, quitting smoking, exercising regularly and staying active can – along with regular cancer screenings –help those who are at risk avoid developing diabetes in the first place.

For more information, see your doctor, or visit http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/prevention/checkup-america/diabetes-and-cancer.html

Author Dr. Elizabeth Chabner Thompson is an esteemed member of our Scientific Advisory Board and Founder of Bffl.co, a fashionable line of bags, bras and surgical accessories for the modern age of breast treatment.

Elizabeth Chabner Thompson

After graduating from Johns Hopkins Medical School in 1993, Dr. Elizabeth Chabner Thompson began devoting herself to taking care of women. During her residency, she also obtained a Masters Degree in Public Health from Harvard. Elizabeth worked as a Radiation Oncologist. She founded BFFL Co (“Best Friends for Life”) in 2011 to fill the need for well-designed, comfortable, patient-friendly recovery and treatment products such as recovery kits, bras for surgery, treatment and recovery. BFFL Co donates a portion of profits to charity, and creates custom products for hospitals, foundations and others. She is an active member of the Harvard School of Public Health Leadership Council, Johns Hopkins University Medical School Alumni Council, and the Mt. Sinai Hospital Dubin Cancer Center Advisory Board.

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