Cancer and Diabetes: The Disharmonious Disease Alliance

We need to battle against cancer and diabetes together and in fact, prevention as well as control measures need to be addressed holistically for all the Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs), says Dr. M. Balasubramanyam, Dean of Research Studies & Senior Scientist at the Madras Diabetes Research Foundation, Chennai. Exactly this is what reflected in our National Programme For Prevention and Control of Cancer, Diabetes, Cardiovascular Disease, and Stroke (NPCDCS1, Govt. of India), he adds.

Every year February 4th is observed as World Cancer Day. World Cancer Day was established by the Paris Charter, adopted at the World Summit Against Cancer for the New Millennium in Paris on 4th February 2000. This Charter aimed at the promotion of the research for curing as well as preventing the disease, upgrading the provided services to the patients, the sensitisation of the common opinion and the mobilisation of the global community against cancer. The theme for this year’s awareness program is: ‘We can. I can.’ World Cancer Day will explore how everyone – as a collective or as individuals – can do their part to reduce the global burden of cancer. Just as cancer affects everyone in different ways, all people have the power to take various actions to reduce the impact that cancer has on individuals, families and communities.

The relationship between diabetes and cancer has become a topical issue now. Cancer and diabetes are diagnosed within the same individual more frequently than would be expected by chance, even after adjusting for age. It is estimated that approximately 8 to 18 per cent of people with cancer have concurrent diabetes, probably because of the shared risk factors between the diseases and their increasing global prevalence. Epidemiological data also suggest that patients with diabetes have a higher risk of developing several types of cancer, including liver, pancreatic, colorectal, gynaecologic, and breast cancer. Does it imply diabetic oncopathy2, as an emerging diabetic complication? asks Balasubramanyam.

In the era of treatment selectivity and molecular-targeted anti-cancer drugs, the accumulating evidence of common pathways linking cancer and diabetes is increasingly pointing the way forward for novel therapeutic avenues. There is strong epidemiological evidence that metformin (primarily the first-line anti-diabetic drug worldwide) may prevent certain types of cancer. “Metformin was originated from the plant, Galega officinalis, and this Nature’s gift3 used for diabetes treatment is now considered as a potential ‘Repurposing Drug’ for many other disease states including cancer” – says Balasubramanyam.

Without significant efforts to address the key risk factors and underlying social determinants driving NCDs, the economic and social toll of burgeoning numbers of people affected by NCDs in developing countries will continue to grow. Many public health experts stress the importance of early intervention in efforts to reduce NCDs, as they generally develop over time and are more difficult – and costly – to address later.

Dr. M. Balasubramanyam, PhD, MNASc, FAPASc is Dean of Research Studies & Senior Scientist at the Madras Diabetes Research Foundation (MDRF) in Gopalapuram, Chennai, India. He has a special interest in disease biology; molecular pathogenesis of diabetes and its vascular complications including diabetic retinopathy; vascular biology and signaling studies on VSMC; clinical significance and subclinical relevance of cellular and molecular alterations in metabolic diseases; mechanisms of accelerated senescence (ageing) and telomere biology; insulin signaling & proteomics; epigenetics; RNAi and miRNA, gut microbiome (metagenomics) and metabolomics aspects of diabetes, unraveling mechanisms of hyperglycemic memory, calcium & redox signaling, proinflammation, oxidative stress, ER stress, AGE pathway and biomarker(s) identification; role of endocrine disruptors in diabetes; bioprospecting herbal molecules; complementary medicine including molecular benefits of yoga; non-invasive point-of-care (POC) clinical measures and medical devices.

References (click to show/hide)

  1. National Programme for Prevention and Control of Cancer, Diabetes, Cardiovascular Disease and Stroke (NPCDCS) (
  2. Balasubramanyam M. Diabetic Oncopathy - One more yet another deadly diabetic complication! Indian J Med Res. 2014, 140: 15-18
  3. Balasubramanyam M. Metformin – Nature’s gift that keeps on giving more. J Obes Metab Res 2014;1:118-20

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This entry was posted in Diabetes, Diabetes Featured 2, Non-Communicable Disease, Oncology and tagged , , , , . Volume: .

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