First, the bad news. Research tells us that Type 2 diabetes is a risk factor for several types of cancer, including breast, endometrial, colorectal, liver, and pancreatic cancer. Knowledge of the link between cancer and diabetes is actually nothing new. Back in 1910, a biostatistician made the connection between diabetes and cancer. More recently, studies have shown that diabetes does indeed increase cancer risk, likely, in part, due to the incidence of overweight and obesity, not-so-healthy food choices, and lack of sufficient physical activity (all modifiable risk factors, by the way).
Now, for the somewhat good news. The risk of prostate cancer does not appear to be influenced by Type 2 diabetes. In fact, the risk of this cancer in men with Type 2 appears to be lower than in men without diabetes. However, men with diabetes are not off the hook that easily — one study of men who had both prostate cancer and diabetes found that those who had higher A1C levels had a more aggressive type of prostate cancer. The researchers didn’t find a link between level of glucose control and the chance of the cancer spreading or recurring.
What is the prostate?
Prostate cancer obviously only occurs in men, as men have prostate glands (and women do not!). The prostate gland is about the size of a walnut and sits in front of the rectum and below the bladder. The prostate makes some of the fluid that nourishes sperm; the rest of the fluid is made by glands called seminal vesicles. The growth of the prostate gland is influenced by the male hormones called androgens, testosterone being the primary androgen. Testosterone is made in the testicles.
Of note, men with Type 2 diabetes are twice as likely to have low testosterone levels than men without diabetes. It may be that lower testosterone levels help reduce the risk of prostate cancer. However, low testosterone can and should be treated.
What is prostate cancer?
Prostate cancer is the most common type of cancer in American men. In fact, about one in six men in the US will develop prostate cancer. Most men under the age of 50 are at very low risk for prostate cancer. But as men get older, the risk increases and it’s thought that most elderly men have some degree of prostate cancer. Most cases of prostate cancer are diagnosed in men age 65 and older. Prostate cancer is very slow growing and because of this, there may be no symptoms. However, if cancer from the prostate spreads to other parts of the body or if it starts to grow quickly, it becomes quite dangerous.
It’s estimated that almost 239,000 new cases of prostate cancer will be diagnosed this year and almost 30,000 men will die from it. African-American men are more likely to get and die from prostate cancer.
What are the symptoms of prostate cancer?
As with Type 2 diabetes, there may be no symptoms of prostate cancer. Sometimes it’s picked up at during a physical exam. But you may get symptoms, which can include:
• Frequent urination, especially at night
• Difficulty starting urination or holding urine back
• A weak flow of urine
• Pain or burning during urination
• Blood in urine or semen
• Difficulty in getting an erection
• Painful ejaculation
• Pain in lower back, hips, or thighs
Of course, these symptoms can be due to other conditions, too, such as BPH (benign prostatic hyperplasia) or prostatitis. See your doctor promptly if you have any of these symptoms to find out what’s causing them.
More on prostate cancer next week…and how you may be able to prevent it!