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Mesothelioma and the Risk of Developing Diabetes

Cancer patients, including those with mesothelioma, have an increased risk for developing diabetes. Diabetes is a chronic illness that causes dangerously high blood sugar levels. The connection between cancer and diabetes is not fully understood but is well documented. Conversely, people with diabetes may have an increased risk of developing cancer. The connection result from similar risk factors or there may be common biological factors.

If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma or another cancer, know the risks. Talk to your doctor about monitoring your blood sugar levels and how to mitigate the risks of developing this chronic condition. The good news is, some simple lifestyle changes could be enough to lower your risk.

mesothelioma and diabetes

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic condition characterized by high blood sugar levels. The hormone insulin, produced in the pancreas, controls blood sugar. Diabetes develops when the body becomes resistant to insulin or does not produce enough. Without properly managing blood sugar levels, someone with diabetes may suffer serious health complications, including vision impairment, nerve damage, heart disease, and even limb amputation.

Diabetes comes in two main types. Type I diabetes occurs when the pancreas either stops producing insulin or does not produce enough to manage blood sugar. Type II diabetes occurs when a person’s body becomes resistant to the insulin produced by the pancreas. Major risk factors for type II diabetes are obesity, poor diet, and lack of exercise.

Chemotherapy, Steroids, and High Blood Sugar

Chemotherapy treatments can elevate blood sugar levels, increasing diabetes risk. Whether it is actually the chemotherapy drugs that raise blood sugar is uncertain. However, the steroids often used in conjunction with chemotherapy do. Your doctor may prescribe steroids, often glucocorticoid drugs, to treat the nausea that often accompanies chemotherapy. These drugs raise blood sugar levels, causing a person to gain weight. This lead to diabetes after cancer treatment. Having other risk factors also increases the risk.

Radiation and Blood Sugar

Radiation therapy is a common cancer treatment and can adversely affect blood sugar levels. This cancer treatment uses a high-energy beam to kill cancer cells in a tumor.  It often elevates blood sugar, but it may also cause levels to shift erratically. Radiation directed to the abdomen (which may occur during treatment for peritoneal mesothelioma) could potentially damage the pancreas. In turn, this could affect insulin and blood sugar levels, putting patients at risk for developing diabetes.

Other Factors Increasing the Risk of Diabetes

Treatments may have a direct effect on blood sugar, insulin, and the pancreas, increasing a person’s susceptibility to diabetes. Other factors are less related to treatment. After treatment for mesothelioma, you may be tired and experience changes in appetite. As a result, you could become less active and gain extra weight. Also, cancer treatments can change how you smell or taste food. This could lead to eating less healthy foods because they are the only things that are appealing. This can also lead to weight gain and elevated blood sugar levels.

Controlling Blood Sugar after Cancer Treatment

Ignoring the risk of high blood sugar levels after cancer treatment can lead to diabetes and other health complications. Monitoring blood sugar levels is important, as are lifestyle changes. Symptoms of hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar, include dry mouth and frequent thirst, blurred vision, increased urination, and fatigue.

One of the best things you can do is eat a healthy diet. This will help maintain proper blood sugar levels. A diet rich in vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains is advised. Also include fruit and dairy to round out your nutrition.

Exercise is also important for regulating blood sugar. Exercise every day, even if it is only a ten minute walk. As you heal from treatment, you will regain energy and exercise will become easier.

Most importantly, keep your doctor in the loop. If necessary, monitor your blood sugar regularly. If you take the right steps to manage blood sugar, making necessary lifestyle changes when appropriate, you should avoid many of the complications of diabetes.

Diabetes and the Risk of Cancer

Having diabetes also increases cancer risk. These diseases may simply share risk factors like obesity and physical inactivity. However, there may be deeper connections. Insulin resistance is a risk factor for both illnesses, so there may be a similar biological component. Glucose may also play a role in the development of certain cancers. Cancers related to metabolism, like pancreatic and liver cancers, are most strongly connected to diabetes.

Researchers continue to explore the connection between diabetes and cancer. There are similar risk factors and an increased risk for one disease if you already have the other. Medical treatment and lifestyle choices affect blood sugar levels and may contribute to diabetes. Being aware of the risks is important for anyone with diabetes or with cancer.

Page Edited by Dave Foster

Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available. Connect with Patient Advocate Dave Foster

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