Hyperglycemia is the medical term for high blood sugar. It’s been identified as a risk factor for some types of cancer, and it’s been linked to a poorer outlook for people with lung cancer.

Hyperglycemia is when your blood sugar levels rise beyond a normal level. Your blood sugar levels are also called blood glucose levels. Glucose is the type of sugar that circulates through your blood and provides your cells with energy.

Hyperglycemia primarily affects people with diabetes. It can cause many health problems if left untreated.

Increasing evidence suggests a close relationship between diabetes and cancer. It’s thought that elevated blood sugar levels promote the growth of cancer cells in multiple ways such as damaging your DNA and impairing DNA repair.

Research is still mixed on whether hyperglycemia is linked to higher rates of lung cancer, also called bronchogenic carcinoma. Some studies have linked hyperglycemia to a higher risk of dying of lung cancer.

Keep reading to learn more about the connection between hyperglycemia and lung cancer.

Language matters

You’ll notice that the language used to share stats and other data points is pretty binary, fluctuating between the use of “men” and “women.”

Although we typically avoid language like this, specificity is key when reporting on research participants and clinical findings. Unfortunately, the studies and surveys referenced in this article didn’t report data on, or include, participants who were transgender, nonbinary, gender nonconforming, genderqueer, agender, or genderless.

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Hyperglycemia is when there’s too much sugar in your blood.

Various factors can lead to elevated glucose levels in your blood, such as:

Glucose levels in your blood are normally between 70 to 100 milligrams per deciliter of blood (mg/dL) when you’re fasting. Blood sugar levels above 125 mg/dL are considered hyperglycemia.

Numerous studies have linked hyperglycemia to increased cancer risk. Hyperglycemia may increase your cancer risk due to factors such as:

Reviews of studies have linked the following types of cancer to hyperglycemia:

Research into whether hyperglycemia increases the risk of lung cancer is inconclusive

In a 2020 review of studies, researchers found no association between lung cancer and diabetes in men but a significant association in women. The researchers noted that smoking status may have been a confounding factor that affected their results.

In a 2021 study, researchers found that diabetes wasn’t significantly associated with lung cancer using data from 140,395 people in the United States.

Hyperglycemia can be challenging to manage if you’re undergoing cancer treatment since some types of cancer medications can also increase your blood sugar levels.

For example, about 10% to 30% of people undergoing chemotherapy experience hyperglycemia.

In a 2022 case study, researchers reported a case of extreme hyperglycemia in a 70-year-old man with type 2 diabetes receiving the drug lorlatinib to treat non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

Hyperglycemia treatment

Synthetic insulin is the main treatment for high blood sugar levels. Insulin is a hormone produced by your pancreas that lowers blood sugar levels.

Supportive treatments for lowering your blood sugar levels include:

Learn more about managing blood sugar levels.

Lung cancer treatment

Treatments for lung cancer often include some combination of:

Your healthcare team will likely recommend medications that have a low risk or no risk of elevating your blood sugar.

Learn more about lung cancer treatment.

Lung cancer is divided into two main categories: NSCLC and small-cell lung cancer (SCLC), based on the appearance of cancer cells.

Research suggests that hyperglycemia is linked to a poorer outlook for people with NSCLC and for people with SCLC.


Numerous studies, such as this one from 2019, have reported poorer outlooks in people with NSCLC and hyperglycemia, with some studies reporting poorer outlooks occurring more than twice as often in people with both conditions than in people with NSCLC but not hyperglycemia.

In a 2021 study, high blood sugar levels were associated with the spread of cancer to the liver and early progression. Data were collected at a 3-month follow-up in a group of 66 people treated with the immunotherapy drug pembrolizumab.

Half of people with hyperglycemia lived for 6 months. Half of people without hyperglycemia lived at least 40.7 months.

The researchers concluded that effectively controlling hyperglycemia may potentially improve the outlook for people with NSCLC and hyperglycemia.


In another 2021 study, researchers found that having preexisting type 2 diabetes may promote the spread of SCLC to distant body parts.

Half of 88 people with preexisting diabetes in the study lived at least 13.93 months. Half of 540 people without preexisting diabetes lived at least 21.77 months.

Sugar provides cancer cells with the energy that they need to grow and replicate. The process of creating energy from sugar is called glycolysis.

Healthy cells only create energy through glycolysis when oxygen is limited. Normally, they prefer to get energy through a more efficient energy system that requires fat. This more efficient energy system produces 32 energy molecules per glucose molecule compared with only 2 energy molecules per glucose molecule in glycolysis.

Unlike normal cells, cancer cells tend to get their energy through glycolysis even when oxygen is available. This finding has led researchers to explore ways of disrupting glycolysis in cancer cells to stop the spread of cancer.

Various types of drugs that disrupt glycolysis are currently used or under investigation for treating NSCLC, including some chemotherapy and targeted therapy drugs. They include:

  • caudatin
  • crizotinib
  • gefitinib
  • dichloroacetate
  • fenbendazole

Hyperglycemia is the medical term for high blood sugar levels. It’s been linked to an increased risk of some types of cancer, such as breast and pancreatic cancer.

Lab studies performed on isolated human cells have shown that high blood sugar levels are linked to factors that can increase the risk of developing lung cancer. Research on human study participants hasn’t found a conclusive link yet.

Taking steps to reduce your chances of developing diabetes may help you improve your chances of developing cancer in general and may improve your outlook if you do develop cancer. Learn more about preventing diabetes here.