July 4, 2010, Updated September 13, 2012



For women, type 2 diabetes brings double the risk of cancer.

Women with type 2 diabetes are at double the risk of getting cancer according to a new study by Israeli researchers.

Led by Dr. Gabriel Chodick and Dr. Varda Shalev of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine at the university’s Faculty of Medicine, the study of over 16,000 diabetes finds that while diabetes reduces the rate of prostrate cancer in men, women with type 2 diabetes are twice as likely to get female genital and other cancers.

This is not the only study to report such a risk, but it’s one of the largest to confirm these findings, and the first to determine the statistical differences in cancer risks for men and women.

Type 2 diabetes normally occurs in adulthood and is characterized by high blood glucose and an insulin deficiency. It affects more than 10 percent of all women in the US over the age of 20, according to the American Diabetes Association.

Good news for men

While the illness can often be managed with a healthy diet, exercise and oral medications, it causes insulin-like hormones to circulate through the body and these are thought to increase the risk of cancer.

In the study, which was published in the journal, Cancer Causes & Control, the scientists examined 16,721 diabetics, differentiating between men and women and defining the relative cancer risks for each group.

When the study began in 2000, none of the subjects had a history of cancer. Over the following eight years, the researchers documented 1,639 cases of different cancers among people with diabetes, and compared them to occurrences of the same cancers in the healthy non-diabetic population – a sample of 83,874 people.

“For men, this study is good news,” says Chodick. The study demonstrates that diabetes actually appears to have a preventative effect on conditions like prostate cancer, reducing the risk of cancers associated with insulin-like hormones by a whopping 47 percent.

Bad news for women

But the opposite is true for women, he continues. “The interaction of diabetes and female hormones appears to exaggerate the risk, and make certain organs like the uterus and ovaries more receptive to certain kinds of cancer.”

While the news is something for female diabetics and their practitioners to take into consideration, there’s no cause for panic, Chodick insists. Although colon and ovarian cancers are serious, their overall risk in women is generally quite low. However, he stresses that physicians should take the research into account when assessing the long-term health histories of their patients.

Chodick encourages diabetic women to be screened for colon cancer earlier and more often than those in the general population. As the occurrence of diabetes in America rises, primarily brought on by an unhealthy lifestyle, such screenings can save lives.

Chodick also believes that the best approach is to avoid diabetes entirely, with the help of a high-fiber, low-carbohydrate diet combined with exercise.

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

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