High blood glucose levels — a hallmark of type 2 diabetes — is linked with a higher risk of colorectal cancer, according to a new study published online in the “British Journal of Cancer.”
Colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer and the third leading cause of cancer death in both men and women in the U.S. In 2007 (the most recent year where figures are available), 142,672 Americans were diagnosed with colorectal cancer and 53,219 people died from the disease.
The new trial involved 5,000 postmenopausal women enrolled in the groundbreaking Women’s Health Initiative study. For these women, fasting blood sugar and insulin levels had been measured at the start of the study and then several more times over the next dozen years.
By the end of the 12-year period, 81 women had developed colorectal cancer. Researchers found that elevated glucose levels were associated with increased colorectal cancer risk. Women with the highest levels were nearly twice as likely to have developed colorectal cancer as women in the lowest levels. This held true over time.
We also know that obesity is a risk factor for colorectal cancer. Obesity is generally accompanied by elevated blood levels of insulin and glucose. Researchers have long suspected that obesity’s influence on colorectal cancer risk stems from the elevated insulin levels it causes. But this new piece of research suggests that obesity’s impact on this cancer may be due to blood sugar levels instead.
The next step is to find out how this link is happening. The researchers say that it is possible that elevated glucose levels are linked to increased blood levels of growth factors and inflammatory factors that spur the growth of intestinal polyps — some of which later develop into cancer.
In the meantime, if you experience high blood glucose levels, you must work with your doctor to control them. There is no shortage of individuals out there for whom this is a reality, as type 2 diabetes has ravaged the adult population over the past several decades.