Breaking cancer news: Insulin therapy ups cancer risk

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By David Liu, PHD

Sunday Feb 5, 2012 (foodconsumer.org) -- Some studies have suggested that being diabetic may be a risk factor for cancer, that is, diabetes may increase risk for cancer.  But Dr. Zhiqiang Lu under the direction of Professor Sheila Weiss Smith proposed that insulin therapy, not the disease per se may elevate the risk.

In his dissertation released in 2011, Dr. Lu, at the University of Maryland in Baltimore reported that insulin therapy when used alone was associated with 88% increased risk for pancreatic cancer. When used together with oral agents, insulin therapy increased the risk by 133%.

The findings were derived from analyses of data from the General Practice Research Database, a large UK-based research database of patient electronic health records from general practitioners.

The study cohort included a total of 230,330 patients with claims for antidiabetic therapy.  Dr Lu intended to assess the effect of insulin exposure on the risk of developing solid cancer among patients with diabetes mellitus and to see if the hemoglobin A1c or HbA1c value may modify the risk of cancer.

In addition to the association between risk of pancreatic cancer and exposure to therapeutical insulin, Dr. Lu also found HbA1c seems to be a risk factor for pancreatic cancer.  The increase in the risk was 39% among those with high HbA1c.  Compared to short-acting insulins, premixed and intermediate-acting insulin similarly increased the risk for pancreatic cancer.

The effect of HbA1c value on the risk of cancer among diabetic patients varied by the type of cancer.

Lu also found that use of insulin was associated with elevated risk for colorectal cancer.

The authors concluded "These data suggest that there may be more than one mechanism by which insulin therapy impacts the risk of cancer among diabetics. Glucose control appears to impact the risk of pancreatic cancer, though it may be an independent factor for some common tumors. Caution should be used when prescribing insulin to patients for diabetes management."

An estimated 26 million Americans live with type 2 diabetes mellitus, according to the Center sfor Disease Control and Prevention.  People with this disease can produce insulin to deal with blood sugar, but somehow not effectively. Doctors say there is no cure for diabetes.  Using insulin as a therapeutic agent is one thing a diabetic can do to manage blood sugar. 

Foodconsumer.org has extensively published studies that suggest what may reduce the risk or help diabetes patients and what may increase risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus.

What may help cut the risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus include Weight loss, physical activity, vitamin D supplements, eating fish and shellfish, dairy products, breastfeeding, Mediterranean diet, green leafy vegetables, high vitamin C, calcium, soy products (better than drugs), coffee, teas, plant-based diet, vegetarian diet, vegan diet, wheat bran, Psyllium fiber supplements, n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, brown rice, L-carnitine, vitamin k, selenium, garlic, turmeric, and safflower oil among other things. 

What may boost the risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus include night shift work, dietary intake of fructose from high fructose corn syrup (corn sugar) and other foods, processed red meat, flame retardants found in household products, sugar-sweetened drinks, depression, physical inactivity, inhaled steroids, HIV drugs, low serum potassium, fruit juice, fatty foods, smoking, cholesterol-lowering medications like statins, radiation, inflammation, exposure to pesticides, obesity, insufficient sleep or too much sleep, bisphenol A in plastic, and pollutants in fish among others. 

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