Review: Diabetes, Obesity, and Cancer-Pathophysiology and Clinical Implications

Endocr Rev. 2020 Feb 1;41(1):bnz014. doi: 10.1210/endrev/bnz014.


Obesity and diabetes have both been associated with an increased risk of cancer. In the face of increasing obesity and diabetes rates worldwide, this is a worrying trend for cancer rates. Factors such as hyperinsulinemia, chronic inflammation, antihyperglycemic medications, and shared risk factors have all been identified as potential mechanisms underlying the relationship. The most common obesity- and diabetes-related cancers are endometrial, colorectal, and postmenopausal breast cancers. In this review, we summarize the existing evidence that describes the complex relationship between obesity, diabetes, and cancer, focusing on epidemiological and pathophysiological evidence, and also reviewing the role of antihyperglycemic agents, novel research approaches such as Mendelian Randomization, and the methodological limitations of existing research. In addition, we also describe the bidirectional relationship between diabetes and cancer with a review of the evidence summarizing the risk of diabetes following cancer treatment. We conclude this review by providing clinical implications that are relevant for caring for patients with obesity, diabetes, and cancer and provide recommendations for improving both clinical care and research for patients with these conditions.

Keywords: cancer; diabetes; hyperinsulinemia; obesity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Diabetes Complications / epidemiology
  • Diabetes Complications / therapy
  • Diabetes Mellitus* / epidemiology
  • Diabetes Mellitus* / etiology
  • Diabetes Mellitus* / therapy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neoplasms* / epidemiology
  • Neoplasms* / etiology
  • Neoplasms* / therapy
  • Obesity* / complications
  • Obesity* / epidemiology
  • Obesity* / therapy
  • Risk Factors