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The Link Between Diabetes and Colon Cancer

Not counting skin cancer, colorectal cancer is the third most common form of cancer and the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in Americans. Colon cancer affects your large intestine, the last stage of the digestive tract. Colorectal cancer starts as small polyps that form inside your colon and can become cancerous with time.

Regular colonoscopies identify polyps in their early stages so they can be removed before they turn into cancer. People with Type 2 diabetes are at particular risk of developing cancerous polyps and should not skip their regular screenings. 

At GastroDoxs in Houston, Texas, board-certified gastroenterologist Bharat Pothuri, MD is aware of the extra risk that people with diabetes face when it comes to colon cancer. We’re available to help you optimize your lifestyle so you reduce your risk of colon cancer. We also provide screenings to catch it early and offer expert management if you should receive a diagnosis.

We’ve pulled together this information about the unique relationship between diabetes and colon cancer.

Increased risk for diabetics

Research shows that people with Type 2 diabetes have a 27% greater chance of developing colon cancer as compared to their non-diabetic peers.

Equally or more disturbing is that diabetes has a negative effect on overall survival if you’re diagnosed with colon cancer. People with Type 2 diabetes live an average of 5 years less than others who are diagnosed with colorectal cancers.

Reasons for the association

The exact reason Type 2 diabetes and colon cancer have a significant link isn’t completely understood, however it may have something to do with hyperinsulinemia. This means you have too much insulin in the blood, which occurs regularly with Type 2 diabetes. The high levels of insulin and sugar create an environment in your colon in which cancer can grow more easily.

The high blood sugar that happens with Type 2 diabetes also increases total body inflammation, which makes the body more susceptible to developing cancer.

The impact of diet and obesity

Risk of colon cancer is elevated when you have poor dietary habits and obesity. Many with Type 2 diabetes are obese, which is associated with higher incidences of colon cancer and an increased risk of death from the disease.

A sedentary lifestyle and a low-fiber, high-fat diet, which are typical in the West, also raise your risk of colon cancer and Type 2 diabetes.

Lifestyle changes, such as revamping your diet to include whole, unprocessed foods and more fiber from fresh vegetables and whole grains helps reduce your risk of both colon cancer and diabetes. Becoming more active is also a good step.

These changes to your diet and exercise habits also help when it comes to managing your weight to prevent becoming overweight or obese.

Of course, your personal health history and family medical history also affect your risk for colon cancer. Smoking, heavy alcohol use, and being older than 50 are other reasons you may be at a higher risk.

Prevention is key

If you have diabetes, help prevent colon cancer by keeping your blood sugar in check. You may also revise your diet and exercise habits and cut back on smoking and alcohol. 

You’ll also benefit from regular colonoscopies to catch polyps early. People age 50 and older benefit from one every 10 years if they’re at normal risk. Dr. Pothuri can set you up for a more frequent schedule if you have diabetes and/or risk factors of colon cancer.

Do let our office know you have diabetes when scheduling your test. We can arrange a morning appointment so you can get back to a normal eating and medication schedule as soon as possible. Dr. Pothuri can also provide you with guidance as to how to best manage your blood sugar before and after the test. 

Bring any glucose tablets or quick-sugar foods with you to the appointment, just in case your blood sugar drops too low. We can work with your diabetic care manager to work out the exact plan for taking insulin, Metformin, or other diabetic medications prior to and after the test.

You’ll also need to work with your diabetes manager to develop a way to monitor your carbohydrates during the “prep” time before the actual colonoscopy. Generally, you’re only to have clear liquids in advance of the screening test. 

If you’re due for a colonoscopy or have suspicious signs, such as blood in your stool, don’t hesitate to call GastroDoxs. We’ll get you scheduled. Call today or book online. 

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