Cancer and diabetes can be difficult to deal with on their own. Combined, having these diseases can add more stress and distress to your life. Luckily, an abundance of tools and resources can help you cope, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you are among the 18 million people worldwide with cancer, one of the 422 million individuals with diabetes, or perhaps you are battling both conditions—then finding ways to manage them can help you reduce your risk of infection or severe side effects.
Understanding the Relationship Between Cancer and Diabetes
Around 8 to 18 percent of people living with cancer also struggle with diabetes, according to the Cancer Treatment Centers of America. Some patients are aware of having diabetes even before they receive a cancer diagnosis. Several others, unfortunately, may only learn about having the chronic health condition following a cancer diagnosis or during treatment.
The types of diabetes are:
- Type 1 diabetes. Formerly called “juvenile-onset” diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM), this health problem arises when the pancreas begins producing little or no insulin. Type 1 diabetes can develop at any age, although it usually occurs in people under the age of 30 (mostly children). 1.25 million Americans have this disorder. In most cases, cancer patients with type 1 diabetes have stomach cancer or cervical cancer.
- Type 2 diabetes. Also called “adult-onset” diabetes or non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM), this chronic disease is more common and occurs when the pancreas produces insulin that does not work properly. Type 2 diabetes typically arises in patients over the age of 30 and are overweight. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 90 to 95 percent of all diagnosed cases are type 2 diabetes. Cancer of the breast, endometrium, pancreas, liver, kidney, and colon sometimes accompanies type 2 diabetes.
- Gestational diabetes. This rare type of diabetes occurs in pregnant women. Gestational diabetes affects between 2 and 10 percent of pregnancies in the United States.
Patients with any one of these types of diabetes may have a higher risk of severe symptoms if they become infected with COVID-19. If you are someone who lives with diabetes, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends having a two-week supply of your medication on hand at all times, testing your blood sugar level every four hours, and following guidelines for managing sick days.
How to Manage Diabetes During Cancer Treatment
Managing diabetes during cancer treatment is a critical matter. Cancer and its treatment may lead to metabolic changes that stimulate or aggravate symptoms of diabetes. Furthermore, high blood sugar levels due to diabetes may weaken the immune system, which must remain strong in order to combat cancer. Diabetes may also delay the effectiveness of cancer treatment and increase the risk of infection during treatment.
Here are some tips for managing diabetes:
- Educate yourself about your disease/s
Learn as much as possible about the type of diabetes you have, as well as how the disease may impact your cancer treatment. Being knowledgeable about the many ways to manage diabetes may empower you to take better care of yourself and prevent complications.
- Create a plan
Discuss your goals for diabetes management with your healthcare team, including your cancer care providers and dietitians. Taking a proactive role in your diabetes care can help you better manage the disease.
- Strive for balance
To maintain a healthy sugar level and help prevent feelings of fatigue during cancer treatment, it is essential to follow a daily schedule or routine. Eat a well-balanced diet, exercise, monitor your glucose levels, take your medication, and stay hydrated.
A word of advice: Avoid skipping meals during cancer treatment. Developing an eating disorder is a rising concern in cancer patients.
- Check your blood sugar often
Some conventional and alternative cancer treatments may cause your blood sugar levels to rise. Keeping your blood sugar level within a normal range helps prevent infection, fatigue, nausea, and other challenges.
- Keep an eye on your blood pressure
High blood pressure and diabetes can harm your blood vessels. High blood pressure can also weaken your immune functions, which hinders your body’s ability to defend itself against viruses and bacteria. To help keep your blood pressure within a healthy range, practice healthy habits like eating a nutritious diet, and exercising regularly.
- Eat for function and not so much for pleasure
Managing what you eat, how much, and how often can help regulate your blood sugar levels. Maintain a healthy balance of protein, good carbohydrates, essential fatty acids. Choose whole vegetables and fruits, as well as beans and whole grains. Limit or eliminate refined products and simple sugars from your diet.
Following this diabetes management tip may be challenging during cancer treatment if feeling nauseous or having difficulty keeping food down are some of the side effects you experience. A registered dietitian should be able to help you create a healthy and delicious eating plan tailored to your specific needs.
- Do your best to stay physically active
Regular exercise may help boost the ability of cells to absorb sugar and process it. Exercise can likewise improve your mood and boost your immunity against infection. Check out The Role of Exercise in a Cancer Patient’s Life Amid COVID-19 for more information.
- Live as stress-free as you possibly can
The combination of having cancer and diabetes can be stressful, especially with all the rules and guidelines you need to follow in order to survive cancer and manage your sugar levels. In addition, being stressed increases the body’s production of hormones that inhibit the effect of insulin, causing your blood sugar to spike even further. Try different ways to reduce stress, such as meditation, yoga, and other relaxation techniques.
- Put an end to your unhealthy habits
Smoking further impairs the immune system of those who have cancer and diabetes, increasing susceptibility to colds and respiratory infections. Excessive alcohol or soda consumption is another bad habit someone with diabetes and/or cancer must stop, as it can lead to dehydration and weaken the immune system.
- Talk about your feelings with people you love and trust
Do not be afraid to share your concerns or innermost fears with close family and friends, as well as with other individuals who are in a similar situation as you. Join a support group for people who are managing a dual diagnosis like yourself. Expressing your thoughts and emotions may help you feel less alone and boost your overall quality of life.
The Bottom Line
People diagnosed with both diabetes and cancer have a significantly higher risk of infection or severe symptoms from COVID-19. The good news is that you can protect yourself against the pandemic and learn to manage diabetes during cancer treatment. Simply try the tips mentioned above to see improvements in your daily life.
Surgery, radiation therapy, and high-dose chemotherapy are not your only options. The cancer care team here at New Hope Unlimited consists of specialists in alternative cancer treatments, including immunotherapy, ozone therapy, vitamin C supplementation, and many others. Call us now at 480-666-1403 to schedule your consultation.