Does Diabetes Increase Your Risk Of Skin Cancer?

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Nearly 30 million Americans have diabetes, which means that around 9.3 percent of the population lives with the disease. Diabetes is a serious medical condition that increases the risk of other health problems, and researchers now believe that the disease could increase the risk of skin cancer. Learn more here.

Cancer and different types of diabetes

Type 1 diabetes occurs when your body no longer makes insulin to control crucial blood sugar levels. With type 1 diabetes, the body's immune system attacks and destroys the cells that make insulin. Type 2 diabetes occurs when the fat, muscle and liver cells can no longer carry insulin to the cells where the body converts the substance to essential energy. With both types of diabetes, sufferers must normally undergo various types of insulin therapy to make sure their bodies can control blood sugar levels.

The overall risk of cancer differs according to the type of diabetes you have, your gender and the treatment you receive to counter the symptoms. According to some studies, the risk of cancer increases by 20 percent for people with type 1 diabetes, by 60 percent for men with type 2 diabetes and by 80 percent for women with type 2 diabetes.

However, these statistics relate to the overall risk of cancer. Predominantly, research shows that diabetics are at higher risk of cancers of the liver, pancreas, endometrium, colon, breast and bladder. Studies about the link between diabetes and skin cancer are less conclusive.

Research into the link between diabetes and skin cancer

Research has investigated this issue for some time, but researchers have not yet reached a clear conclusion. A 1985 study investigated the symptoms of nearly 15,000 men and women treated for cancer between 1957 and 1965. While the study focused on the discovered link between diabetes and cancer of the vulva and vagina, the researchers also found a positive association with non-melanoma skin cancer in the female patients.

More recently, a 2014 report reviewed the findings from various studies and found that people with type 2 diabetes were possibly at higher risk of developing malignant melanoma. However, the nature of the study and the methods used meant that the team could not reach a clear enough conclusion, and the researchers recommended further studies.

What this means for patients

The team behind the 2014 research paper urged caution before doctors react or revise clinical guidelines as a result of the findings. The research team warned that the research methods did not point to any specific risk factors that doctors and patients could target to help manage the risk of cancer (including skin cancer). As such, with limited information, there isn't much that diabetes patients can yet do to manage these risks.

At this time, the focus of ongoing research is largely around the link between insulin therapy and cancer. Some doctors believe that high levels of insulin can promote the growth of tumors, which has prompted more work to look at alternative treatment methods, including the use of metformin instead of insulin.

What's more, doctors know that obesity increases the risk of both type 2 diabetes and cancer. As such, the link between diabetes and cancer may simply exist because of the risk factors associated with the lifestyles of obese people. In turn, this gives people with diabetes another strong reason to live healthy lifestyles and carefully manage their weight.

The importance of early diagnosis

Melanoma develops in the pigment cells within your skin, and if you act on the symptoms of the disease soon enough, doctors can normally treat this type of skin cancer. As such, given the possible link between the two diseases, it's a good idea for people with diabetes to remain extra vigilant to any symptoms.

Doctors recommend the ABCDE method to remind patients what to look for. If you spot any unusual new moles or spots on your skin you should look out for:

  • Asymmetry
  • Border irregularity
  • Color changes
  • Diameter more than 6mm
  • Evolving or changing over time

In the early stages, doctors can normally remove melanoma with relatively simple skin cancer surgery, so it's important to look and get attention for anything suspicious straight away.

Researchers increasingly believe there is a risk between diabetes and skin cancer. Talk to your doctor for more information or advice.