High BMI, Diabetes Contributing to Global Cancer Burden


Approximately 5.6% of new cancer cases worldwide are attributable to the combined effect of diabetes and a high body mass index, according to a new study published online in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology (doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S2213-8587(17)30366-2).

In all, 792,600 new cancer cases in 2012 were caused by the combination of those 2 independent risk factors.

“As the prevalence of these cancer risk factors increases, clinical and public health efforts should focus on identifying preventive and screening measures for populations and for individual patients,” said study lead author Jonathan Pearson-Stuttard, BMBCh, Imperial College London, in a journal press release. “It is important that effective food policies are implemented to tackle the rising prevalence of diabetes, high BMI, and the diseases related to these risk factors.”

Researchers looked at the incidence of various types of cancer in 2012 as well as the prevalence of diabetes and high BMI in 2002, assuming a 10-year lag between the 2 risk factors and cancer diagnoses.

Individually, 3.9% (n = 544,300) of the cancer cases were attributable to high BMI. Approximately 2%  (n = 280,100) cases were owed to diabetes.

Most of the cancer cases linked to obesity and diabetes (38.2%) occurred in western counties with high incomes, researchers found. East and southeast Asian countries had the second highest proportion (24.1%).


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Although liver cancer and endometrial cancer comprised the highest number of cancer cases due to diabetes and high BMI worldwide, breast and endometrial cancer constituted 40.9% of the cases in high-income western counties, central and eastern Europe, and sub-Saharan Africa.

The rates of cancer linked with diabetes and high BMI is expected to increase as the prevalence of the 2 risk factors grows worldwide. Researchers estimated the proportion of cancers attributable to the conditions will increase to more than 30% in women and 20% in men by 2025.

“Increases in diabetes and high BMI worldwide could lead to a substantial increase in the proportion of cancers attributable to these risk factors, if nothing is done to reduce them,” said Dr Pearson-Stuttard. “These projections are particularly alarming when considering the high and increasing cost of cancer and metabolic diseases, and highlight the need to improve control measures and increase awareness of the link between cancer, diabetes, and high BMI.”—Jolynn Tumolo