Diabetes, Cancer and the Drug that Fights them Both
by Megan L Norris
figures by Bradley Wierbowski
The emerging link between cancer and diabetes
In the early 2000s, observations that diabetics are more likely to get cancer than non-diabetics began piling up. Was this because diabetes and cancer share general risk factors such as diet, aging and obesity? Or was there a direct link between them, with cancer benefiting from the sugar-rich and inflamed environment brought on by diabetes? Making bad news worse, it became apparent that cancer thrives in the presence of excess insulin, like that injected by many diabetics as therapy. Thus, one of the ways to treat diabetes could be making the cancer risk even worse.
Almost as soon as this dark cloud began to loom, rays of light broke through from an unexpected source. Research on a popular type II diabetes treatment called metformin revealed that metformin actually seemed to lower the risk for colorectal and other cancers in diabetics. Though it may seem paradoxical that metformin and insulin injections, two treatments for the same disease, could have such opposite effects on cancer, years of research in both the clinic and the laboratory has begun to pull back the curtain on this mystery. Broadly speaking, metformin makes the body more sensitive to the insulin it already is. For type II diabetics, not only does this increased insulin sensitivity treat diabetes, but it drains the fuel on which some cancers may thrive.
Diabetes is a pervasive disease
Diabetes is the 7th leading cause of death in the US and is on the rise. More than 10% of Americans over 20 years old have diabetes, Continue reading