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Mesothelioma and the Risk of Developing Diabetes

Mesothelioma patients and those with other types of cancer have been found to be at a greater risk for diabetes, the chronic illness of high blood sugar. Exactly why there is a connection is not fully understood, but it is well documented that people treated for cancer are at an elevated risk for diabetes. People with diabetes may also be at an increased risk for cancer. The connection may be the result of similar risk factors, or there could be biological factors that the diseases have in common.

If you are being treated for mesothelioma or another type of cancer, be aware of the risks. Talk to your doctor about whether or not you need to be monitored for blood sugar levels and find out ways that you can mitigate the risks of developing this chronic condition. Some simple lifestyle changes could make a big difference in lowering your risks.

mesothelioma and diabetes

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic condition that is characterized by high blood sugar levels. Blood sugar is controlled by a hormone called insulin, which is produced in the pancreas. When something goes wrong with insulin, diabetes may develop. Without proper management of blood sugar levels, someone with diabetes may suffer serious health complications and lasting health problems. These include vision impairment, nerve damage, heart disease, and even limb amputation.

There are two main types of diabetes: type I and type II. 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, a poor diet, and lack of exercise.

Chemotherapy, Steroids, and High Blood Sugar

One possible reason that someone treated for cancers like mesothelioma may be at an elevated risk for diabetes is that treatment with chemotherapy can elevate blood sugar levels. This puts patients at an elevated risk for diabetes. One study found that among thousands of women who survived breast cancer, the odds of developing diabetes were significantly higher than in a control group of women without cancer.

Whether chemotherapy drugs raise blood sugar is uncertain, but the steroids often used in conjunction with chemotherapy do raise blood sugar levels. Steroids, often glucocorticoid drugs, are used to treat the nausea that so often accompanies chemotherapy. These drugs raise blood sugar levels and may cause a person to put on weight. This could be a contributing factor in the development of diabetes after being treated for cancer. Having other risk factors for diabetes at the time of treatment with chemotherapy and steroids increases the risk of developing the condition.

Radiation and Blood Sugar

Radiation therapy, which involves aiming a beam of high energy radiation at a tumor to kill cancer cells, is also known to affect blood sugar levels. Most commonly it may cause blood sugar to rise, but it may also cause levels to shift up and down erratically. Radiation specifically to the abdomen, which may occur during treatment for peritoneal mesothelioma, may actually damage the pancreas. This damage can 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, which means that they can directly impact a person’s susceptibility to diabetes. There are other factors at work that are less directly related to treatment. For instance, after going through treatment for mesothelioma, you may experience a lot of fatigue and changes in your appetite. This may cause you to be less active, which can lead to weight gain. Cancer treatments often change how you smell or taste food, so you may resort to eating less healthful foods because they are the only things that appeal to you. This can also lead to weight gain and elevated blood sugar levels.

Controlling Blood Sugar after Cancer Treatment

It is important to be aware of the risk of developing high blood sugar levels after being treated for cancer because ignoring it can lead to diabetes and other health complications. Monitoring blood sugar levels is important, as is making certain lifestyle changes to manage blood sugar. Symptoms of hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar, include a dry mouth and frequent thirst, blurred vision, increased urination, and fatigue.

One of the best things you can do is eat a healthy diet to help maintain good blood sugar levels. Dieticians can help you craft a healthy diet, but generally stick with lots of vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grain vegetables. Also include fruit and dairy to round out your nutrition. Exercise is also important in regulating blood sugar. Try to get in at least a little bit of exercise every day, even it if is only a ten minute walk. As you heal from treatment, you will regain some energy and getting active will become easier.

Most importantly, keep your doctor in the loop and if needed, monitor your blood sugar regularly or lose a certain amount of weight as recommended. If you take the right steps to manage blood sugar and make the right lifestyle choices, you should be able to avoid many of the complications of diabetes.

Diabetes and the Risk of Cancer

Having diabetes also puts people at an increased risk for having cancer. One reason for this may simply be that the two diseases have risk factors in common, like obesity and physical inactivity. There may be even deeper connections, though. For instance, resistance to insulin is a risk factor for both illnesses, so there may be some kind of biological component that makes cancer and diabetes similar. Glucose may also play a role in the development of certain cancers. Types of cancer related to metabolism are most strongly connected to diabetes, like pancreatic and liver cancers.

The connection between diabetes and cancer is one that is still being explored. There are definite links, with similar risk factors and increased risk for one disease if you already have the other. There are many factors involved, such as treatment and lifestyle, but there are likely many more to be discovered. 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.

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