Health

Cancer death risk higher in people with type 2 diabetes – how to prevent it

How can you prevent type 2 diabetes? (Alamy/PA)
Abi Jackson and Imy Brighty-Potts, PA

People with type 2 diabetes are twice as likely to die from certain cancers, a new study has found.

Overall, the risk of dying from cancer is 18% higher in those with type 2 compared with the general population, according to researchers at University of Leicester.

Examining data from 137,804 people in the UK, there was found to be a higher risk of dying from pancreatic, bowel and liver cancers, while women with type 2 also had an increased risk of not surviving endometrial and breast cancer.

It's already known that type 2 diabetes is associated with a range of serious complications – including heart disease, nerve damage and kidney disease. Now, researchers are calling for cancer death risk to be given “a similar level of attention”.

Further research is needed to shed more light on why this increased risk occurs and how to manage it. But what we do already know is that type 2 diabetes itself is often preventable.

What is type 2 diabetes?

The condition means blood glucose levels become too high, as a result of somebody's insulin not working properly or their body not being able to produce enough.

Type 2 develops over time and is influenced by lifestyle factors (unlike type 1 diabetes, which is an autoimmune disease that attacks the pancreas, leaving it unable to produce insulin).

Type 2 diabetes is predicted to affect five-and-a-half million people in the UK by 2030, according to charity Diabetes UK – but there are ways people can reduce their risk of developing the condition.

1. Make movement part of your life

Having an active lifestyle is a key way to lower your risk of type 2 diabetes, alongside all the other health boosts exercise brings.

Dietician Dr Carrie Ruxton, who works with the Tea Advisory Panel (TAP; teaadvisorypanel.com), says: “A report in the World Journal of Diabetes found while vigorous exercise was best for cutting risk, even walking for at least 30 minutes per day lowered the risk by around half.”

2. Maintain a healthy weight for you

Weight is just part of the picture when it comes to our health – and some people have naturally larger frames or more muscle mass – but generally speaking, being overweight is linked with higher rates of type 2.

Ruxton notes people with obesity are “up to 80 times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, compared with having a body mass index under 22”.

3. Eat more plants and wholefoods

You don't have to go fully veggie or vegan to embrace the vast health benefits of consuming more wholegrains, veg, beans and legumes.

A diet rich in fibre has been found to reduce type 2 diabetes risk by around a fifth, according to a study published in Diabetologia, while people whose diets contain a wide variety of veg, beans, wholegrains and pulses generally have lower risks of numerous long-term diseases, including type 2.

“Fibre is found in wholegrain bread, pasta and rice as well as oats, beans, vegetables and fruit,” says GP Dr Gill Jenkins. “Scientists believe wholegrain cereal types are better for blood sugar control and reducing the risk of diabetes.”

4. Drink more tea

Key to preventing type 2 diabetes is maintaining healthy blood sugar levels – and according to Ruxton, a recent TAP report found your daily cuppa can help.

The findings related to a regular intake of black and green tea, while a study in British Medical Journal found having more than three cups of tea daily is associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes.

5. Get plenty of sleep

Sleep is vital for keeping well generally – and research has also found it could have a role in type 2 diabetes.

A study led by University of Bristol, published in Diabetes Care last year, suggested people who often have difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep had higher blood sugar levels than people who usually sleep well – potentially resulting in a higher risk of type 2.

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