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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    Is there a link between insulin and cancer?

    Four years ago I was diagnosed with cancer. In July this year I was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes. I am on 4 Metformin and 1 Trajenta tabs daily. I have lost 6 kg in weight so far and exercise daily. Although my readings are gradually reducing, the endocrinologist has recommended I start on insulin. I have heard that insulin can trigger cancer. Is there any truth in this?
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  • Carolien Koreneff

    Counsellor, Credentialled Diabetes Educator (CDE), Diabetes Educator, Psychotherapist, Registered Nurse

    Carolien Koreneff is a Somatic (body-oriented) psychotherapist, Health Coach, Counsellor as well as a Credentialed Diabetes Educator with over 20 years experience. She currently sees … View Profile

    Type 2 diabetes can develop in response to high levels of stress, as undoubtedly you experienced during your cancer treatment (I hope that that is all behind you now and that you have a good prognosis).  In response to stress the body releases adrenaline which in turn releases glucose from your liver back in to the blood stream. Originally this response was there in preparation for either fight or flight (to keep us safe from that Mammoth that may be chasing us); but these days our stressors are different, yet will create a similar physical response…
    Then there is the problem that the beta cell function of the pancreas (the cells that produce insulin) will decline over time and so people with type 2 diabetes will need more and more treatment over time. After some years the medication may not be enough to keep the blood glucose levels in check and insulin treatment may become necessary.
    I would like to congratulate you on all the hard work you have put into your health. Well done! Without the lifestyle changes you would have undoubtedly needed insulin much sooner, but I digress from the actual question.
    There was a report from Germany some time ago that speculated that there may be an increased risk of developing bladder cancer in people who take insulin Glargine (Lantus), but this has since been overturned by other researchers who researched larger number of people and seemed to have better research methods. As far as I am aware there is no risk of developing cancer due to insulin treatment, but I have heard that people with diabetes can be at higher risk of developing certain types of cancer (perhaps through the stress response outlined above??). Overall I would think that the risk of developing diabetes complications due to high glucose levels in the long term is more prevalent than the risk of developing cancer.
    Having said all that, I would suggest you have another chat to your endocrinologist as there are other groups of tablets that could potentially be used (a group call sulphonylureas, which includes medication such as Diamicron, Amaryl, Glyade, Minidiab and Daonil to name just a few), but this would depend on you specific situation. I would also recommend that you discuss the endocrinologist's findings and recommendations with your GP. If you are still concerned you could consider asking a second opinion, though from what you explained above I don't think that this is essential.
    All the best, feel free to contact me if you like any further information.

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