New Light on Link Between Cancer and Diabetes

Back in the 1920s, researchers discovered that cancer patients had sweet-smelling urine. “This was one of the first things we learned about cancer patients,” says Associate Professor Lykke Sylow.

Where previous studies have examined the connection between cancer and insulin, Lykke Sylow and colleagues’ new study is the first to compile the best research on the topic, and the answer seems to be clear:

“In cancer patients, the cells do not respond well to the hormone insulin. It therefore takes more insulin to create the same effect in cancer patients. If you suffer from insulin resistance, your body has to produce more insulin than usual to be able to regulate the blood sugar,” says Lykke Sylow.

And the body’s ability to respond to insulin is impaired in both cancer patients and people with type 2 diabetes.

Aside from the negative consequences of insulin resistance, the condition can also cause cancer cells to multiply.

“We know from cell studies, animal studies and some human studies that insulin is a growth hormone, and that it has the same effect on cancer cells. That is, a high level of insulin can make cancer cells grow faster,” says the second main author of the study, Joan Màrmol.

Furthermore, insulin resistance can influence the build-up of proteins in the muscles. That is, if the body fails to respond to insulin, it will lose muscle mass and strength, and that is a huge problem for a lot of cancer patients.

“The next step is trying to determine who develops insulin resistance. Which cancer patients are at risk here? Do they have a particular type of cancer or specific risk factors? Or is it perhaps connected with the treatment?” Lykke Sylow says and adds:

“And once we have identified those at high risk of developing the condition, I hope to see more long-term studies of insulin resistance treatment and whether it has a positive effect on the patients.”


Joan M. Màrmol, Michala Carlsson, Steffen H. Raun, Mia K. Grand, Jonas Sørensen, Louise Lang Lehrskov, Erik A. Richter, Ole Norgaard, Lykke Sylow. Insulin resistance in patients with cancer: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Acta Oncologica, 2023; 62 (4): 364 DOI: 10.1080/0284186X.2023.2197124

University of Copenhagen – The Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences. “Hidden mechanism connects cancer and diabetes.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 June 2023. <>.

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Photo by Diana Polekhina