A link between breast cancer and diabetes?

Leigh Ann Brooks, RN, diabetes educator and nursing services operational lead, reveals a surprising connection between two common conditions.

When October rolls around, it’s hard to miss the pink ribbons everywhere. We talk a lot about breast cancer this time of year, but did you know there is a connection between breast cancer and diabetes? Recent studies have shown that women who are breast cancer survivors are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. Conversely, women who have type 2 diabetes are more likely to develop breast cancer.

The risk.
Approximately 7 percent of women will develop diabetes within 2 years and 21 percent will develop diabetes within 10 years of their breast cancer diagnosis. Interestingly, women who had chemotherapy as part of their treatment had the opposite scenario. These women had the highest risk of developing diabetes within the first two years, at 24 percent, with a reduction of this risk to 8 percent by ten years after their breast cancer diagnosis. Researchers theorize that because the steroids used in chemotherapy treatments can cause weight gain and elevations in blood sugar, this may be one explanation for the difference. 

Women who develop type 2 diabetes also have an increased risk of developing breast cancer.  Recent studies show post-menopausal women with diabetes have approximately a 20 percent chance of developing breast cancer. It has been noted that insulin resistance can not only cause diabetes, but may also predispose women to many type of cancer, including breast cancer.  This insulin resistance can cause an increase in the growth of breast tissue, which may predispose a woman to breast cancer.

Minimizing the risk.
To reduce a women’s risk of both diabetes and breast cancer, these patients need to focus on one thing: a healthy lifestyle. While not all diabetes or breast cancer cases are preventable, a woman can give herself an edge in avoiding both through lifestyle modification. It is important for women to consume a healthy diet full of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, low fat dairy, lean meats and plant-based fats. Increasing activity is also key. These two measures will assist women in maintaining a healthy body weight and help to prevent both diabetes and breast cancer.

It is important for women (and men) over the age of 45 to be tested for diabetes annually.  Testing may begin at an earlier age if the individual is obese or has other risk factors for developing diabetes. Mammograms can begin at age 40, or sooner based on family history. Assess your risk of developing diabetes here.



Glynn, Sarah. “What is the relationship between breast cancer and diabetes?”. Medical News Today. 

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