The Connection Between Diabetes and Cancer

Diabetes and cancer may be different diseases, but research is showing that the two diagnoses are linked in multiple ways, such as:
  • Dual Diagnosis: people with diabetes are at greater risk for developing some malignancies (such as liver, pancreatic, endometerial, colorectal, breast and bladder cancers) and studies suggests that certain cancer survivors are at greater risk of developing diabetes later in life.
  • Shared Risk Factors: type 2 diabetes and many cancers share the same risk factors, such as smoking, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, poor diet and excessive alcohol consumption.
  • Drug Effects: researchers have found that some drugs used to treat cancer can affect blood sugar levels, potentially worsening diabetes; meanwhile, certain types of diabetic mediation can impact cancer risk.
City of Hope is one of a few elite institutions in the United States with research and treatment expertise in both diabetes and cancer. Our leading-edge diabetes and cancer programs benefit from, and build on, each other's discoveries. These findings include:
 A molecular approach to treating cancer and diabetes

Wendong Huang, Ph.D., is a City of Hope researcher who is seeking answers — and better treatments — for cancer and diabetes.

He had discovered that chemical derivatives from the barberry plant can kill melanoma cells. And more recently, he found that one of those analogs — berberine — may also block diabetes by activating a receptor that increases the body's sensitivity to insulin and helps to maintain glucose balance.
A protein linked to cancer, diabetes and obesity

One protein, RLIP76, has been linked to diabetes, cancer and obesity.
“It’s always present in every type of cancer, and it’s increased in multiple diseases, including diabetes and obesity," says City of Hope's Sanjay Awasthi, M.D. "Cancer, diabetes and obesity are linked to about 80 percent of all adult mortalities."

Studies by Awasthi and colleagues have shown that cancer cells produce excessive amounts of RLIP76, which makes the cancerous cells resistant to radiation and chemotherapy. He's also found in animal studies that mice engineered without the protein "have a greater metabolism and they have lower blood sugars and lower triglycerides and cholesterol and they're very resistant to carcinogens."

Now Awasthi is investigating a compound called 2-hydroxyflavanone, present in high quantities in orange rind, which appears to inhibit the protein.

"Not only does it inhibit RLIP76, but it reduces the amount of this protein in cells, particularly cancer cells," Awasthi says. "We think that taking this compound could prevent a variety of cancers and perhaps reduce obesity as well."