During a seminar at the 2015 Annual Meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), Tim Byers, MD, MPH, a University of Colorado Cancer Center researcher, evaluated current evidence on the link between cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer.
“We tend to silo ourselves in our research, but there are a number of risk factors shared in these three diseases,” Dr. Byers, CU Cancer Center’s associate director for cancer prevention and control, said in a recent news release.
According to the World Cancer Research Foundation, obesity is a major risk factor for cancer in the United States, possibly causing nearly 20% of esophagus, colon, breast, kidney, pancreas, gall bladder and endometrium cancers. It is also known that obesity and being overweight contribute to cardiovascular disease and diabetes, with World Heart Federation estimations showing that obesity causes 21% of ischemic heart disease and 58% of type 2 diabetes.
“Obesity leads to a chronic inflammatory state and circulating growth factors that have adverse effects on the heart, and can also contribute to the development of cancer. But we tend to study these things in isolation, by disease and not by risk factor. The intention of this symposium is to plant a seed of thought that maybe, as cancer researchers, we should pay more attention to the subtleties of the epidemiology of other diseases,” Dr. Byers said.
Diet quality, tobacco, alcohol use and physical activity are well known risk factors for cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes. During the symposium, Byers mentioned that current scientific knowledge of cardiovascular diseases, cancer and diabetes has useful information that researchers from other fields could use. However, as he pointed out, researchers usually no not use information outside their disease expertise
“I was recently talking to a cardiovascular disease epidemiologist about cytokines — small proteins that can make inflammation and are jacked up in obesity,” Dr. Byers said in the news release. “It turns out that in cancer we had focused on one kind of cytokine and in cardiovascular disease, they had focused on another. There was no good reason for the difference — it’s just what was in the literature.”
Researchers studying cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer usually do not work in collaboration with other research fields, but Dr. Byers hopes that by “stepping back to look system-wide,” he said, investigators from various fields of research should share knowledge and collaborate, leading to a better comprehension on how these risk factors operate in the cellular, tissue and molecular levels to drive these conditions.
“Understanding the similarities and differences in how these risk factors create cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease could aid the ways we prevent all three diseases,” Dr. Byers concluded.