Diabetes and cancer: Associations, mechanisms, and implications for medical practice

World J Diabetes. 2014 Jun 15;5(3):372-80. doi: 10.4239/wjd.v5.i3.372.


Both diabetes mellitus and cancer are prevalent diseases worldwide. It is evident that there is a substantial increase in cancer incidence in diabetic patients. Epidemiologic studies have indicated that diabetic patients are at significantly higher risk of common cancers including pancreatic, liver, breast, colorectal, urinary tract, gastric and female reproductive cancers. Mortality due to cancer is moderately increased among patients with diabetes compared with those without. There is increasing evidence that some cancers are associated with diabetes, but the underlying mechanisms of this potential association have not been fully elucidated. Insulin is a potent growth factor that promotes cell proliferation and carcinogenesis directly and/or through insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1). Hyperinsulinemia leads to an increase in the bioactivity of IGF-1 by inhibiting IGF binding protein-1. Hyperglycemia serves as a subordinate plausible explanation of carcinogenesis. High glucose may exert direct and indirect effects upon cancer cells to promote proliferation. Also chronic inflammation is considered as a hallmark of carcinogenesis. The multiple drugs involved in the treatment of diabetes seem to modify the risk of cancer. Screening to detect cancer at an early stage and appropriate treatment of diabetic patients with cancer are important to improve their prognosis. This paper summarizes the associations between diabetes and common cancers, interprets possible mechanisms involved, and addresses implications for medical practice.

Keywords: Association; Cancer; Diabetes mellitus; Mechanism; Medical practice.

Publication types

  • Review