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Diabetes May Raise Risk for Head and Neck Cancer

By Larry Hand
Medscape Medical News

July 29, 2014 -- The risk for head and neck cancer is higher in people with diabetes than in those without diabetes, according to a new study.

That risk is greater for people 40 to 65 years old.

Kuo-Shu Tseng, PhD, from Tainan University of Technology in Taiwan, and colleagues compared the records of 89,089 people newly diagnosed with diabetes with those of people who didn't have diabetes. They got the data from a Taiwan's Longitudinal Health Insurance Research Database, which has claims information on 23.3 million beneficiaries between 1996 and December 31, 2011.

They found that the risk of head and neck cancer was almost 50% higher for the diabetes group. To put that in perspective, the risk is low, and just because you have diabetes doesn’t mean you’ll get head and neck cancer. It just means that the chance is a bit higher than for someone without diabetes.

The study was published online July 24 in JAMA Otolaryngology.

People ages 40 to 65 in the diabetes group had a significantly higher risk of developing head and neck cancer, and men had higher risk than women.

The most common site of head and neck cancer was the mouth (57.1%) in the diabetes group. The next-most-common cancer site was the nasopharynx, the upper part of the throat behind the nose.


The researchers write that theories for the link between diabetes and head and neck cancer include genetic risk factors and long-term exposure to high levels of insulin in the blood, which has already been linked to breast cancer.

A weakness of the study is that several suspected risk factors for head and neck cancer, such as people's histories of using alcohol, smoking tobacco, and physical activity, weren't available in the database.

This research was supported by the Taipei Medical University and Chi Mei Medical Center Research Fund. The authors have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

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