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May 2024

Genetic links between T2D and cancers

Type 2 diabetes shares genetic connections with multiple cancers, according to research announced at the Diabetes UK Professional Conference 2024. The study, part funded by Diabetes UK, reveals new insights into the interplay between the conditions that could pave the way for better cancer prevention and treatment strategies in people with type 2 diabetes.

Cancer is now the leading cause of death among people with diabetes in England. Figures from 2018 show 28% of deaths in people with diabetes in England were due to cancer, up from 22% in 2001, with cancer survival rates in those with diabetes lagging behind the general population. Type 2 diabetes can put people at increased risk of developing a range of serious health complications, including certain types of cancer, however the biological factors that contribute to the link between type 2 diabetes and cancer have been poorly understood.

The research team looked at DNA data from over 36,000 individuals from several European countries. This included people living with type 2 diabetes and breast, colorectal, and pancreatic cancer. The researchers pioneered a new approach that allowed them to study how genetic variants simultaneously affect all four different health conditions.

For the first time, two specific genetic variants were pinpointed as key contributors to people developing both type 2 diabetes and some cancers. One variant was linked to the risk of developing both breast cancer and type 2 diabetes, while the other affected type 2 diabetes and breast, colorectal, and pancreatic cancer risk. Therefore, people carrying either of these genetic variants will have an increased susceptibility to developing both type 2 diabetes and these cancers.

This research also highlights the need for healthcare professionals and people living with type 2 diabetes to be vigilant for the symptoms of cancers, so problems can be detected and treated early.

Practice Nurse 2024;54(3):7