Managing diabetes during cancer treatment

January 22, 2021 | by Doreen Berard, RD, LDN

For cancer patients who also have diabetes, management of the disease during treatment can help prevent increased risk of infection, hospitalizations, and reductions or pauses in treatment.

During your treatment, the focus is on cancer. But it’s important to manage your diabetes as well to ensure your body is best able to tolerate and benefit from chemotherapy, radiation or other modalities.

The type of cancer treatment you receive plays a large role in managing diabetes during treatment. Both radiation therapy and some types of chemotherapy can cause hyperglycemia, an increase in blood sugar levels. This must be monitored carefully as hyperglycemia may lead to dehydration and strain your body’s organs and immune system.

At Edward Cancer Center, your care team includes a wellness oncology dietitian to help you manage your diet. The dietitian collaborates with your oncologist, primary care physician and/or endocrinologist to ensure your blood sugars are well managed throughout your care and that you are empowered to take control of diabetes during treatment.

There are several ways you can work with your care team to manage diabetes during cancer treatment:

  • Make a plan. In collaboration with your cancer team, you can work with a dietitian and the physician who manages your diabetes to evaluate your medical history and current diet. Together, you can determine if your treatment plan may increase blood sugars, and if and when your medications should be adjusted. You can also determine when you should test your blood sugars at home and before treatments, and what to expect if your blood sugars are elevated.

  • Manage diet. In general, you should eat a well-balanced diet that includes fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and adequate protein. Protein needs to increase about 50% once cancer treatment begins — additional protein helps heal tissues and fight infection — so you will likely be advised to eat more protein than usual.

  • Stay active. Your medical team can work with you to help design an exercise program that allows you to stay active during treatment. From regular walks, to breathing exercises and yoga, there are many ways to keep the body moving to help control diabetes, improve overall health and wellness and help manage stress during treatment.

  • Manage stress. No matter how well you are coping with a cancer diagnosis or how much support you have, cancer treatment is challenging and stressful. Increased stress can hamper your ability to stay committed to your diabetes management plan and make healthy lifestyle choices more difficult. For all cancer patients, it’s important to make time for self-care activities such as gatherings with family and friends, meditation, support groups, mental health counseling or other healthy options that decrease overall stress.

  • Make healthy lifestyle choices. In addition to staying on track with plans for managing sugars, eating healthy and reducing stress, as you’re undergoing cancer treatment, it’s important to avoid smoking, alcohol and using recreational drugs. Doing so helps keep blood sugars under control and best prepares your body to heal during cancer treatment.

Learn about diabetes care at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

Cancer is a journey no one expects to take. We’re with you every step of the way. Learn more about cancer care at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

Learn more about Edward-Elmhurst Health’s cancer care from Healthy Driven Chicago.

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