How Diabetes Affects Cancer – The Covid-19 Report

April 12, 2020

By Robert Hess

Here in California, we are entering our fourth week under the stay at home policy and, I must admit, it’s having some impact on my diet and exercise routine.

I’m an avid cyclist as well as a bit of a gym rat – only two days per week, though – the stay at home program has eliminated my gym time and cut 3 1/2 hours from my weekly bicycling time. That’s about 1,329 calories a week I’m not burning.  But how does that calorie burn loss impact my cancer and diabetes risk? And what’s the connection to Covid-19?

Here’s my situation and what might be happening to you  . . .

  • At 5.8, my hemoglobin A1c is just above normal and puts me in the pre-diabetes risk area. [I should note that I’m a 17-year prostate cancer survivor with that recurrence risk factor].
  • Research shows that long-term regular physical activity training is helpful in improving glycemic control, body composition and cardiovascular fitness. The stay at home order has eliminated my long, three-hour bicycle ride.
  • My wife and I have found we are moving toward comfort foods because of the stress. We found and box of stuffing in the cupboard and it was super good. But not good for my blood sugar.
  • We all have heard of the “freshman 15” where first year college students gain weight. Well, my wife and are have gained a few pounds that we are called the “Covid 19.” Pun intended.

Read this excellent post from the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) below. The AICR is one of my favorite cancer survivorship resources. Read the post and then my personal Covid-19 anti-cancer battle plan at the end.

Almost of one of every two American adults has or is at risk of having diabetes . . .

About one of every two American adults has or is at risk of having diabetes, with approximately a third of those with diabetes unaware they have it, finds a new study that offers important insights into cancer risk. People with type 2 diabetes are at increased risk for many of the most common cancers, including liver, colon, and postmenopausal breast.

The study was published in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

Research links people with type 2 diabetes at approximately twice the risk of developing cancers of the liver, pancreas, and endometrium. Evidence is weaker but still clear – approximately 20 to 50 percent higher – for cancers of the colon/rectum, post-menopausal breast, and bladder.

Study authors used various national health survey data conducted periodically from 1988 to 2012. Participants had answered health questions and gone in for an exam, where they gave blood samples and had their weight and height measured. Anyone who reported a previous diagnosis of diabetes went into the diabetes category. Those with various measures of blood sugar levels over a set amount were categorized as having either undiagnosed or pre-diabetes.

chartUsing one set of measures with the most current available data (2011-12), 14 percent of adults have diabetes. Yet about a third of those with signs of the disease have not been diagnosed. Another set of blood sugar measures puts the figure at 12 percent of adults having diabetes with a quarter of these people having the disease undiagnosed. And another third of adults – slightly more – have prediabetes, a condition that shares many risk factors with common cancers.

Accounting for age, diabetes increased from approximately 10 to 12 percent in the late 1980s to the mid 2000s, where it remained until 2012.

Diabetes cases increased over time in every age group, in both sexes, and in every racial and ethnic group.

The overall increase over the decades may be due to rising rates of obesity, write the authors, a key risk factor for the disease. Obesity is also a key risk factor for increased risk of many of the most common cancers. Along with excess body fat, type 2 diabetes and cancer share several other risk factors, including poor diet and inactivity. High blood sugar is one possible mechanisms linking the two diseases; others include high levels of insulin and inflammation.


Sources: Andy Menke et al. “Prevalence of and Trends in Diabetes Among Adults in the United States, 1988-2012.” JAMA. September 8, 2015, Vol 314, No. 10.

Edward Giovannucci et al. Diabetes and Cancer: A Consensus Report, published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. Volume 60, Issue 4, pages 207–221, July/August 2010.

Robert Hess’s 2020 Covid-19  anti-diabetes and cancer prevention plan