Obesity and Diabetes Epidemics:

Cancer Repercussions
  • Anette Hjartåker
  • Hilde Langseth
  • Elisabete Weiderpass
Part of the Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology book series (AEMB, volume 630)


The prevalence of overweight (body mass index, BMI, between 25 and 30 kg/m2) and obesity (BMI of 30 kg/m2 or higher) is increasing rapidly worldwide, especially in developing countries and countries undergoing economic transition to a market economy. One consequence of obesity is an increased risk of developing type II diabetes.

Overall, there is considerable evidence that overweight and obesity are associated with risk for some of the most common cancers. There is convincing evidence of a positive association between overweight/obesity and risk for adenocarcinoma of the oesophagus and the gastric cardia, colorectal cancer, postmenopausal breast cancer, endometrial cancer and kidney cancer (renal-cell). Premenopausal breast cancer seems to be inversely related to obesity. For all other cancer sites the evidence of an association between overweight/obesity and cancer is inadequate, although there are studies suggesting an increased risk of cancers of the liver, gallbladder, pancreas, thyroid gland and in lymphoid and haematopoietic tissue.

Far less is known about the association between diabetes mellitus type I (also called insulin dependent diabetes mellitus or juvenile diabetes), type II diabetes (called non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus or adult onset diabetes mellitus) and cancer risk. The most common type of diabetes mellitus, type II, seems to be associated with liver and pancreas cancer and probably with colorectal cancer. Some studies suggest an association with endometrial and postmenopausal breast cancer. Studies reporting on the association between type I diabetes mellitus, which is relatively rare in most populations and cancer risk are scanty, but suggest a possible association with endometrial cancer.

Overweight and obesity, as well as type II diabetes mellitus are largely preventable through changes in lifestyle. The fundamental causes of the obesity epidemic—and consequently the diabetes type II epidemic—are societal, resulting from an environment that promotes sedentary lifestyles and over-consumption of energy. The health consequences and economic costs of the overweight, obesity and type II diabetes epidemics are enormous. Avoiding overweight and obesity, as well as preventing type II diabetes mellitus, is an important purpose to prevent cancer and other diseases. Prevention of obesity and type II diabetes should begin early in life and be based on the life-long health eating and physical activity patterns. Substantial public investments in preventing overweight, obesity and type II diabetes mellitus are both appropriate and necessary in order to have a major impact on their adverse health effects including cancer.


Breast Cancer Pancreatic Cancer Cancer Risk Diabetes Type Breast Cancer Risk 
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Copyright information

© Landes Bioscience and Springer Science+Business Media 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anette Hjartåker
    • 2
  • Hilde Langseth
    • 2
  • Elisabete Weiderpass
    • 1
  1. 1.Cancer Registry of NorwayOsloNorway
  2. 2.Department of Etiological ResearchCancer Registry of NorwayOsloNorway

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