Type 2 diabetes and obesity linked with 800,000 new cancer cases

by Barbara Hewitt on November 29, 2017

The combined effect of type 2 diabetes and obesity is responsible for hundreds of thousands of new cases of cancer a year with women more at risk than men, according to the first study of its kind.

For the first time researchers have quantified the number of cancers likely to be caused by diabetes and high body mass index (BMI) worldwide and found it to be nearly 800,000 a year.

(Leonardo da/Shutterstock.com)

The study, led by Imperial College London, found that nearly 6% of new worldwide cancer cases in 2012 were caused by the combined effects of diabetes and being overweight or obese .

As individual risk factors, being overweight was responsible for twice as many cancers as diabetes. Some 544,300 cases were attributable to high BMI, equivalent to 3.9% of all cancers, and 280,100 were attributable to diabetes, equivalent to 2%.

‘Our study shows that diabetes, either on its own or combined with being overweight, is responsible for hundreds of thousands of cancer cases each year across the world,’ said Dr Jonathan Pearson-Stuttard of the School of Public Health at Imperial College.

The research also shows that one in four diabetes related cancer cases in 2012, some 77,000 cases, were attributable to the worldwide rise in diabetes between 1980 and 2002. Just under a third of weight related cancer cases in 2012 or 174,000 were attributable to the worldwide rise in the number of overweight and obese people over the same period.

Cancers caused by diabetes and being overweight or obese were almost twice as common in women as men, accounting for 496,700 and 295,900 overall cancer cases respectively.

The study authors say that if global rates of diabetes and overweight continue to rise, the share of cancers attributable to the combined factors will increase by over 30% in women and by 20% in men by 2035.

The researchers gathered data on cases of 12 types of cancer from 175 countries in 2012. They combined this with data on high BMI and diabetes. They matched the data sets by age group and gender.

The two factors accounted for a quarter of liver cancers and more than a third of all endometrial cancers worldwide. In men, liver cancer was the commonest cancer caused by diabetes and high BMI, accounting for 126,700 cases, or 42.8% of all cancers caused by diabetes and high BMI. Colorectal cancer was the second commonest, accounting for 63,200 new cancer cases or 21.4%.

In women, breast cancer was the commonest cancer caused by diabetes and high BMI, accounting for 147,400 cases or 29.7% of such cancers. Endometrial cancer was the second commonest, accounting for 121,700 new cancer cases or 24.5%.

‘While obesity has been associated with cancer for some time, the link between diabetes and cancer has only been established quite recently. Our study shows that diabetes, either on its own or combined with being overweight, is responsible for hundreds of thousands of cancer cases each year across the world,’ Pearson-Stuttard pointed out.

‘The distinct features of cancer patients are evolving throughout the world. In the past, smoking was by far the major risk factor for cancer, but now healthcare professionals should also be aware that patients who have diabetes or are overweight also have an increased risk of cancer,’ he added.

The authors say that although the reason for the link between diabetes and cancer is still being investigated, high insulin or glucose levels, chronic inflammation, and sex hormone disruption are potential factors.

They say the figures highlight the need for effective food policies to tackle overweight and diabetes, and for clinicians to be aware of the high cancer risk carried by people of all ages who are overweight, have diabetes, or both.

‘Both clinical and public health efforts should focus on identifying effective preventive, control and screening measures to structurally alter our environment, such as increasing the availability and affordability of healthy foods, and reducing the consumption of unhealthy foods. It is vital that coordinated polices are implemented to tackle the shared risk factors and complications of chronic diseases such as obesity and diabetes,’ Pearson-Stuttard concluded.


The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the DiabetesForum.com Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

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