Women with diabetes may be at a higher risk for cancer than men with diabetes, according to a study published in the journal Cancer Causes & Control (2010 Jun;21(6):879-87).

The study, led by Dr. Gabriel Chodick and Dr. Varda Shalev of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine at the Sackler Faculty of Medicine, involved 16,721 diabetic men and women. At the start of the study, none of the subjects had a history of cancer. Over the following eight years of the study, the researchers documented 1,639 cases of different cancers among people with diabetes and compared them to occurrences of the same cancers in the healthy nondiabetic population.

Researchers discovered that for men, diabetes had a preventive effect on conditions like prostate cancer. Specifically, the risk of cancers associated with insulinlike hormones was reduced by 47%. However, researchers found that type 2 diabetes may double the risk of female genital and other cancers. “The interaction of diabetes and female hormones appears to exaggerate the risk, and make certain organs like the uterus and ovaries more receptive to certain kinds of cancer,” said Dr. Chodick.

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Based on the findings of this study, Dr. Chodick encouraged diabetic women to be screened for colon cancer earlier and more often than those in the general population. “Of course, wherever possible, the best approach is to avoid diabetes entirely,” concluded Dr. Chodick, “with the help of a high-fiber, low-carbohydrate diet combined with exercise.”