Until a few decades ago, having diabetes was a rarity. Today, the incidence of this lifestyle disease is much more common. The number of people with diabetes in India has increased from 26 million in 1990 to 65 million in 2016. As per the 2019 National Diabetes and Diabetic Retinopathy Survey Report brought out by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, its prevalence has been found in 11.8% over the age of 50.
Some research studies suggest that diabetes could be a potential risk for breast cancer, and the mortality rates are much higher in these patients.
Before we get down to understanding the link between these two illnesses, let’s first learn about what breast cancer is, and some of its common risk factors.
For the uninitiated, breast cancer is the most common cancer prevalent amongst women that develops inside the tissue of the breast. That means there is uncontrollable growth and spread of new cells that have its origin in the breast tissue.
Breast cancer can develop in different parts of the breast —some cancers do not move beyond the breast and are called non-invasive breast cancers, while others generally spread outside the breast, giving it the name of invasive breast cancer.
Unlike other parts of the body, a woman’s breasts are made up of fat, connective tissue, and thousands of lobules that produce milk, and ducts that transport the milk to the nipple, thereby letting women breastfeed their children.
Just like all forms of cancer, it is difficult for doctors to pinpoint the exact causes, but there are certain factors that increase the risk of this disease.
Research suggests that breast cancer is more commonly found in women who suffer from type 2 diabetes, especially in older women who have gone through menopause. Another study attests that diabetic women are up to 20% more likely to develop postmenopausal breast cancer than older women in the non-menopausal stage.
Some say that it is indirectly associated with obesity, which is a big risk factor for all kinds of lifestyle diseases. A more recent medical study conducted by scientists in California gave more insight as to why breast cancer is more common in people with type 2 diabetes.
The study was conducted on the breast cells of mice and humans. It was found that the levels of glucose transport protein (GLUT3) were 400 times higher in malignant cells than non-malignant cells. This kind of protein helps glucose to pass through cell membranes, and in the case of cancer, the glucose stimulates the formation of new cancerous cells, and provides them with the energy to grow.
“Three mechanisms have been postulated to associate diabetes with breast cancer: activation of the insulin pathway, activation of the insulin-like growth factor pathway, and regulation of endogenous sex hormones. Another mechanism postulated is chronic hyperglycemia that could increase the risk of breast cancer known as the Warburg effect. Hyperglycemia is associated with increased level Insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) and inflammatory cytokines, directly and indirectly influencing cancer cell proliferation, apoptosis, and metastasis,” quoted a study by NCBI.
Most breast cancer cases are diagnosed during a routine checkup of the breast that includes getting mammography done. The X-ray is done to assess any abnormalities in the breast tissue. In certain cases, an ultrasound scan is also needed.
Older women, in the age group of 50-70 years, are advised to go for regular screening to identify breast cancer at an early stage. Sometimes, in addition to screening, breast cancer is also diagnosed using a biopsy, which includes taking a sample of tissue cells from the breast, and checking for any kind of cancerous growth.
Those who are diabetic can reduce their risk of breast cancer by taking metformin. As per a research conducted in Italy in 2012, it was found that metformin could be used to help treat or even prevent the development of breast cancer in postmenopausal women, who do not have diabetes.
Besides, it is always recommended to consume a balanced diet, pack in some exercise, and get proper sleep to stay fit and healthy!