The increasing frequencies of obesity and diabetes may be driving up the global cancer burden, according to a study published in The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology.1

Diabetes and high body mass index (BMI) are known leading causes of mortality worldwide, but their association with cancer risk was previously undetermined. Worldwide, about 422 million adults have diabetes and 2.01 billion have a high BMI, defined as a BMI of at least 25 kg/m².

For this risk assessment analysis, researchers determined the 2012 incidence rates of 12 cancer types in 175 countries. Cancer incidence among patients with a high BMI, diabetes, or both was compared with the general population.

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The authors did not, however, distinguish between type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

Of 14,067,894 reported cancer cases, 280,100 (2%) were attributed to diabetes alone, 544,300 (3.9%) were attributed to a high BMI alone, and 792,600 (5.6%) were attributed to both. The combination led to a higher cancer risk among females (496,700 cases) than in males (295,500 cases). Liver cancer was the most common diagnosis among males with diabetes and a high BMI; breast cancer was the most common among females.

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Noting that the number of cancers attributable to diabetes and a high BMI is likely to increase dramatically by 2025, the authors concluded that these “projections are particularly alarming in view of the high, and growing, economic cost of cancers and metabolic diseases, and highlight the importance of integrated control measures to tackle common modifiable risk factors.”


  1. Pearson-Stuttard J, Zhou B, Kontis V, Bentham J, Gunter MJ, Ezzati M. Worldwide burden of cancer attributable to diabetes and high body-mass index: a comparative risk assessment. Lancet Diabetes Endocrinol. 2017 Nov 28. doi: 10.1016/ S2213-8587(17)30366-2 [Epub ahead of print]