We mark Men’s Health Month every June to raise awareness of men’s health issues. This year, the month focuses on diabetes. Men are more likely than women to develop diabetes and may face a higher risk for certain types of cancer due to the link between diabetes and cancer.
Why is there a link between diabetes and cancer? No one can say for sure. According to the American Diabetes Association, some medical professionals believe that the link exists because of shared risk factors, such as obesity, lack of exercise, and aging. Others believe that an unidentified biological component is key. In addition, higher levels of insulin and glucose in the body have been linked to an increase risk of cancer.
Diabetes increases a man’s risk of developing certain types of cancers. Pancreatic cancer, for example, is more common among people with type 2 diabetes and in men. In turn, diabetes itself can be a symptom of pancreatic cancer since pancreatic cancer affects blood sugar levels. The shared risk factors may be the link between these diagnoses.
Liver cancer is also more common in men. Liver cancer and diabetes have the shared risk factor of obesity, which can cause a fatty liver and lead to more health problems. Like pancreatic cancer, diabetes can also be a symptom of liver cancer.
Even though breast cancer is rare in men—at less than one percent of breast cancer diagnoses, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation—diabetes does increase the risk of developing breast cancer.
According to the American Diabetes Association, having type 2 diabetes reduces the risk of sex-type cancers. For men, this means a reduction in prostate cancer; a possible link is the drop in testosterone levels associated with diabetes. Men with diabetes should still be aware of prostate cancer, however, as it is the second most common type of cancer among American men.
Type 2 diabetes does put men in risk of colon cancer, an already pervasive cancer that mostly affects older men. Routine screenings, however, have led to an overall decline in cases of colon cancer.
As for type 1 diabetes, the link between it and cancer has been studied less. According to one study, resources waver on whether there is an increased risk of cancer for those with type 1 diabetes. While some find no link, others find that the risks, as well as the reduced risks, are similar to those with type 2 diabetes. For those with type 1 diabetes, the risk of stomach, liver, pancreas, and kidney cancers increases. Like with type 2 diabetes, the risk of sex-type cancers, as well as breast cancer, decreases with type 1. Ultimately, however, the results are inconclusive.
To prevent both diabetes and cancer, reduce your risk factors by exercising regularly. Find an exercise regimen that works for you and your schedule. You can also eat healthily by focusing on adding more fruits and vegetables into your diet and reducing the amount of carbs, red meats, and sugar. To fight inflammation, eat more broccoli, blueberries, ginger, fatty fish, dark chocolate, and drink more water and green tea. Additionally, reduce your overall risk of cancer and diabetes by avoiding smoking and drinking excessive amounts of alcohol.
As for the risk factors you cannot control, be aware of them. Men who have a family history of type 2 diabetes should regularly visit a doctor and keep track of their health. Men who are 55 or older should also regularly visit a doctor for screenings.
As June draws to a close, remind the men in your life to be aware of their health. Men can take charge of their health by seeking medical attention, asking questions, and making lifestyle changes. While the reason for the association between diabetes and cancer is still unknown, limiting the number of risk factors may help prevent both diseases.