Diabetes Linked to Higher Risk of Blood Cancers

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Diabetes Linked to Higher Risk of Blood Cancers

People with diabetes are at an elevated risk for hematological (blood) cancers such as leukemia, lymphoma and multiple myeloma, according to a new analysis published in the journal Diabetologia.

While having diabetes — and elevated blood glucose levels, in particular — has been linked to a number of different health risks involving areas of the body as diverse as your eyes, feet and kidneys, very little research has been conducted on the effects of elevated blood glucose on the blood itself. In the latest analysis, researchers used healthcare databases from Ontario, Canada, to look at how developing diabetes influences the risk of developing blood cancers. Based on the available data, they identified 1,003,276 people age 30 or older who developed diabetes between January 1996 and December 2015. Another 2,006,552 people without diabetes, matched by age and sex to those who developed diabetes, were included in the study for comparison.

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Diabetes and blood cancers

The researchers found that overall, people with diabetes were 10% more likely to develop blood cancers than people without diabetes — a modest but significant difference, which was found after adjusting for a number of factors that influence blood cancer risk, including age. What’s more, this increased risk among people with diabetes appeared to remain constant regardless of how long it been since a person’s diabetes diagnosis, suggesting that the higher risk of blood cancer might be based on current blood glucose levels rather than long-term damage from elevated blood glucose. Many other diabetic complications, in contrast, are more likely to develop the longer a person has had diabetes.

The researchers also found that among people who developed a form of blood cancer, having diabetes was linked to a 36% higher risk of death from all causes, as well as a higher risk of death specifically from that type of cancer. This finding suggests not only that diabetes makes blood cancers more likely, but that it may also contribute to more aggressive forms of cancer or limit the body’s ability to respond or adapt to the health effects of these cancers.

When it came to specific cancer types, people with diabetes were 27% more likely to develop leukemia, 11% more likely to develop lymphoma, and 15% more likely to develop multiple myeloma. Once they developed these cancers, people with diabetes were 25% more likely to die with leukemia, 35% more likely to die with lymphoma, and 38% more likely to die with multiple myeloma. The increased risk of death from each particular cancer was 13% for leukemia, 14% for lymphoma, and 29% for multiple myeloma.

“We demonstrated that diabetes was an independent predictor of both all-cause and cause-specific mortality among patients with hematological malignancies,” the researchers wrote. “Not surprisingly, the increase in all-cause mortality was greater than for cause-specific mortality, suggesting that diabetes has a greater impact on non-cancer-related mortality than on cancer-specific mortality.”

While were are no special screening guidelines for blood cancers based on having diabetes, it’s important to see your doctor if you develop any new symptoms, including those that may be linked to blood cancers, such as fatigue, fever, loss of appetite, unintended weight loss or shortness of breath.

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Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips

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A freelance health writer and editor based in Wisconsin, Phillips has a degree from Harvard University. He is a former Editorial Assistant for Diabetes Self-Management and has years of experience covering diabetes and related health conditions. Phillips writes on a variety of topics, but is especially interested in the intersection of health and public policy.

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