Diabetes mellitus and cancer

Eur J Intern Med. 2000 Oct;11(5):245-252. doi: 10.1016/s0953-6205(00)00106-0.


Although an association between diabetes and cancer was found over 100 years ago, the issue underwent different interpretations over the subsequent decades, and only modern, prospective, epidemiological cohort and case-control studies conducted in several countries have provided reliable evidence of an increased cancer risk in diabetic patients, mainly in those with type 2 diabetes. This risk varies according to the tumor site: it is the greatest for primary liver cancer, moderately elevated for pancreatic cancer, and relatively low for colorectal, endometrial, breast, and renal cancers. The cause of the association is not clear and remains the subject of different hypotheses. The most frequently cited reason is the potential effect of insulin. Found in high concentrations, due to insulin resistance in most patients with type 2 diabetes, this hormone is believed to express a mitogenic effect. This hypothesis needs to be confirmed in appropriately programmed prospective studies, but it may already be helpful in choosing an adequate treatment for type 2 diabetes to achieve optimal metabolic control with a simultaneous reduction in hyperinsulinemia, such as diet, physical exercise, metformin, and acarbose.