Diabetes Self-Management Blog

When people who have Type 2 are diagnosed with cancer, their focus on diabetes is often moved to the back burner while they concentrate on cancer treatment. But ignoring blood glucose levels can create a dangerous set of circumstances for both conditions, according to new research from Northwestern University.

In addition to the short-term risks of high blood glucose levels, such as blurry vision and fatigue, and long-term risks, such as neuropathy (nerve damage) and retinopathy (eye damage), uncontrolled diabetes also impairs the immune system’s ability to fight off cancer. People with diabetes have a higher incidence of several types of cancer, including liver, pancreatic, colon, breast, bladder, and endometrial cancers.

To determine the effects of diabetes education on health in people with diabetes and cancer, researchers looked at five years of health records from 222,000 people. According to the records, approximately 3.8% of people without cancer and 3.5% of those with cancer received diabetes education two times a week over a period of four to six weeks.

They found that 65.2% of those with diabetes and cancer who had received diabetes education had their A1C (a measure of blood glucose control over the previous 2–3 months) level checked at least twice and 88% had their A1C level checked at least once over the course of three years. In people with cancer who had not received diabetes education, only 48% of people had their A1C level checked at least twice and 78% had it checked at least once over the course of three years. According to recommendations from the American Diabetes Association, A1C should be checked at least once every three months.

Additionally, among those who received diabetes education, there were 416 emergency room visits and 658 hospital admissions compared to 463 emergency room visits and 883 hospital admissions among those who did not receive the education.

“People with diabetes hear cancer and they think that it is a death sentence, so who cares about diabetes at this point?” noted senior study author June McKoy, MD, director of geriatric oncology at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University. “But if they’re not careful, it’s the diabetes that will take them out of this world, not the cancer. That’s why this education is so critical when cancer comes on board. Patients must take care of both illnesses.”

For more information, read the article “Diabetics With Cancer Dangerously Ignore Blood Sugar” or see the study’s abstract in journal Population Health Management. To learn more about managing diabetes while undergoing cancer treatments, listen to this podcast or read these Q&As from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. And to connect with others who are dealing with cancer, visit the Web site cancerforums.net.

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