Kristen Nichols HeitmanKristen Nichols Heitman, MPH, is an epidemiologist in the Rickettsial Zoonoses Branch of the Division of Vector-Borne Diseases at the National Center for Emerging Zoonotic and Infectious Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). She received a Master of Public Health (MPH) with a concentration in epidemiology from Georgia State University.

With March came Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, where we focused on ways to prevent colorectal cancer, or colon cancer, the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States. Did you know the same prevention tips we shared for reducing your risk for colon cancer can be applied to prevent type 2 diabetes? These are good habits to form as there has recently been a link established between type 2 diabetes and colon cancer, according to the American Cancer Association.

Some ways to lower your risk of colon cancer and type 2 diabetes include:

  • Staying away from a diet high in red and processed meats
  • Keeping physically active
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Staying away from tobacco
  • Avoiding heavy alcohol use
  • Attending regular medical exams and getting screened

These diseases share common risk factors, but type 2 diabetes itself has been identified as a link between increased risk of developing colon cancer. In addition, studies have shown that those with colon cancer and type 2 diabetes are more likely to die than those diagnosed with colon cancer who do not have type 2 diabetes.

There are a few major hypotheses for the link, according to Peter Campbell, Ph.D., an American Cancer Society researcher who has been studying the connection between diabetes and colon cancer for a number of years. One thought is that the amount of insulin in the blood of a person with type 2 diabetes is higher than normal – a condition called hyperinsulinemia. The abnormally high levels of insulin and glucose may create an environment in the colon that promotes the development and growth of cancer. Other theories include having too much sugar in the blood — known as hyperglycemia — and chronic inflammation due to diabetes.  Researchers seem to have ruled out the idea that it is the injected insulin that people with type 2 diabetes sometimes use to treat their condition that is linked to colon cancer. Rather, the cancer risk appears to have something to do with type 2 diabetes itself.

While researchers indicate further study is needed to explore the link between type 2 diabetes and colon cancer, hedge your bets by reducing your risk for both diseases by following our prevention tips and completing preventive health tests as recommended by your health plan or primary care provider.

Read about the updated colorectal cancer screening guidelines here.

The conclusions, findings, and opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the official position of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Public Health Service, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or the author’s affiliated institutions.

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