Cancer and diabetes: Managing a dual diagnosis
If you are managing cancer and diabetes, you understand how difficult it can be to eat right and stay strong. Each of these diseases can be frustrating enough to deal with on their own. When battling them at the same time, it can take your stress to new levels.
Regardless of which disease came first, know you are not the only one dealing with this situation. Cancer and diabetes often co-exist. And, while managing both diseases simultaneously can be difficult, it can be done. The first step is understanding.
Diabetes is a disease in which the body does not produce or properly use insulin. Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas (the large gland behind the stomach). Insulin is needed to convert sugar, starches and other carbohydrates into energy needed for daily life.
Much of the food you eat is broken down into glucose (sugar), which is the main source of fuel for the body. After digestion, glucose passes into the bloodstream and, with the help of insulin, it moves into the body’s cells where it provides fuel for metabolic processes.
If the pancreas produces little or no insulin, or if the body’s cells do not respond appropriately to the insulin that is produced, glucose accumulates in the blood. Thus, the body’s cells lose their main source of fuel. Also, when there is too much sugar in the blood for long periods of time, other cells become damaged.
While an estimated 14.6 million Americans (about 7 percent of the U.S. population) have been diagnosed with diabetes, about 6.2 million people have the disease and don’t even realize it.
Types of diabetes
There are two main types of diabetes, Type I and Type II. Some pregnant women can also get diabetes, which is called gestational diabetes.
Type I diabetes, formerly known as “juvenile-onset” diabetes or insulin dependence diabetes mellitus (IDDM), occurs when the pancreas produces little or no insulin. Type I diabetes can occur at any age, but it typically develops in people under the age of 30 (most commonly children). It accounts for about one out of 10 people with diabetes and is primarily treated with daily insulin injections.
Type II diabetes, sometimes called “adult-onset” diabetes or non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM), is more common and occurs when the insulin produced by the pancreas does not work effectively. Type II diabetes is typically found in individuals who are over 30 years of age and overweight. It accounts for about nine out of 10 people with diabetes and can be managed with healthy eating, regular exercise, oral medications and/or insulin when necessary.
The cancer-diabetes relationship
Between eight and 18 percent of people living with cancer also have diabetes. While many individuals know they are diabetic when they are diagnosed with cancer, others may only discover it after a cancer diagnosis or during treatment.
In addition, there is a strong link between diabetes and different types of cancer. Type I diabetes tends to occur with cervical and stomach cancers. Type II diabetes often occurs with breast, endometrial, pancreatic, liver, kidney and colon cancers.
It is important to properly manage diabetes during cancer treatment. Cancer and cancer treatment can bring about metabolic changes that cause or aggravate symptoms of diabetes. Also, high blood sugar levels brought on by diabetes can weaken the immune system, which needs to be strong to fight cancer. Likewise, diabetes could potentially delay cancer treatment or increase the risk of infection during treatment.