Skip to main content


Impact of type 2 diabetes mellitus on short-term and long-term outcomes of patients with esophageal squamous cell cancer undergoing resection: a propensity score analysis



The association between type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) and the risk of esophageal cancer remains unclear. The present study aimed to evaluate the impact of T2DM on short-term outcomes and long-term survival in patients with esophageal squamous cell cancer (ESCC).


The present retrospective study included 862 patients diagnosed with ESCC between January 2001 and December 2010. Among them, 280 patients had T2DM. A 1:1 propensity score-matched cohort consisting of 280 patients with and 280 without T2DM was selected from the 862 patients. The associations between T2DM and clinicopathologic characteristics were assessed using the χ2 or Fisher’s exact test. Survival of ESCC patients with and without T2DM was calculated by using the Kaplan–Meier method and compared by using the Cox regression model between the two groups.


The occurrence rate of anastomotic leakage was significantly higher in patients with T2DM than in those without T2DM (P < 0.001). In the subgroup with weight loss rate ≤ 5.05%, ESCC patients with T2DM had a significant longer overall survival than did those without T2DM (P = 0.003), whereas in the subgroup with weight loss rate > 5.05%, the patients without T2DM showed a longer survival (P = 0.001). Univariate and multivariate analysis results showed that T2DM was not an independent prognostic factor for patient survival.


Type 2 diabetes mellitus is not an independent prognostic factor in patients with ESCC. However, the combination of T2DM with severe weight loss would be a predictor of poor prognosis.


Esophageal cancer is the fifth most common cancer in China, with 287,600 patients newly diagnosed each year, and the fourth most frequent cause of cancer-related deaths, accounting for 210,900 deaths each year [1]. In Asian countries, more than 90% of esophageal cancers are esophageal squamous cell carcinomas (ESCC) [2]. Surgery remains the predominant modality in the management of esophageal cancer [3].

Over the past two decades, the markedly increased morbidity of type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) in most countries has suggested a possible association between diabetes mellitus and cancer [4]. T2DM patients have shown an increased incidence of several cancers, including pancreatic cancer [5], liver cancer [6, 7], colorectal cancer [8], gastric cancer [9], and renal cancer [10]. In contrast, a decreased incidence of prostate cancer has been observed in diabetic patients, suggesting a protective effect of diabetes [11]. However, the effect of T2DM on the prognosis of patients with several types of cancer, including lung cancer, remains unclear [12, 13].

Over the past two decades, the association between T2DM and the risk of esophageal cancer has been examined in different population- and hospital-based settings, but these studies have yielded inconsistent results [14, 15]. A recent meta-analysis reported by Huang et al. [16] has supported the hypothesis that men with diabetes may have a modestly increased risk of esophageal cancer. To date, however, the prognostic significance of T2DM in ESCC has not yet been determined. In the present study, we therefore evaluated the effect of T2DM on the prognosis of ESCC patients who underwent curative surgery.

Patients and methods

Study design

The study included patients with histologically proven ESCC who underwent conventional open esophagectomy with 2-field lymphadenectomy at the First Affiliated Hospital of Sun Yat-sen University, the Second Hospital of Lanzhou University, or Sun Yat-sen University Cancer Center between January 2001 and December 2010. Patients were excluded if they (1) had received preoperative or/and postoperative chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy; (2) presented with synchronous primary tumors and/or had previous malignant diseases; (3) underwent R1 or R2 resection; or (4) underwent subtotal/total gastrectomy or had other complications, including hyperthyroidism or active tuberculosis.

A diagnosis of diabetes mellitus is based on a patient’s history of diabetes mellitus and/or the use of antidiabetic mediations in the hospital medical record (all diabetes diagnoses should be made on the basis of classification and diagnosis of Diabetes released in 2015) [17]. Blood sugar levels were rigorously controlled by insulin injections during the perioperative period.

To minimize the effect of potential confounders on selection bias, propensity score-matching analysis was performed. Factors related to combined treatment were entered into the propensity model; these factors included age, sex, smoking status, drinking status, weight loss rate, body mass index (BMI), tumor location, tumor grade, pT category, pN category, pathological tumor/node/metastasis (pTNM) stage, and complications. Patients with and without T2DM were matched one-to-one using the optimal matching method. The adjusted comparisons by propensity scores were based on data from the patients with T2DM. After adjustment for these factors, overall survival (OS) rates, baseline characteristics, and were re-analyzed to explore the prognostic factors for the patients with and without T2DM.

Preoperative evaluation included a complete history, a physical examination, complete blood cell counts, serum biochemistry, chest X-rays, barium swallow test, computed tomography (CT) scans of the chest and abdomen, ultrasonic esophagoscopy, and mandatory cardio-pulmonary assessments.


Postoperative follow-up and CT scans were performed every 3 months during the first year, every 6 months during the next 2 years, and once every year thereafter. Contrast CT scans of the lower neck, thorax, and upper abdomen, including the liver and adrenal glands, were routinely performed.

Survival status was verified using the best available methods in December 2015, including reviews of outpatient records and direct telecommunication with each patient or his/her family. T2DM history, weight loss, BMI, smoking status, and drinking status were determined by reviewing each patient’s medical records at the first visit to a hospital. Weight loss rate was defined as the following formula [18]:

$$ {\text{Weight loss rate }} = \frac{{{\text{weight1}} - {\text{weight2}}}}{\text{weight1}} $$

weight1: body weight measured on the first day of admission.

weight2: body weight measured before leaving the hospital.

Because few reports have defined weight loss rate, this parameter was empirically divided into four categories: 0, > 0 to ≤ 5%, > 5% to ≤ 10%, and > 10%.

Complications were estimated from clinical, laboratory, and imaging data. The pTNM stage of each patient was defined according to the criteria of the American Joint Committee on Cancer staging system (2010).

Statistical analysis

All statistical analyses were performed using the SPSS 19.0 software package (IBM, Chicago, IL, USA). OS was defined as the time from the date of surgery to the date of death or final clinical follow-up. All patients lost to follow-up or being alive at the last follow-up were censored. Associations between T2DM and clinicopathologic characteristics were assessed using the χ2 or Fisher’s exact test. Survival rates were calculated with Kaplan–Meier curves and compared with log-rank tests. Univariate and multivariate cox regression analyses were controlled for the variables mentioned above. A two-sided P value < 0.05 was considered statistically significant. Receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curve was constructed using Medcalc 12.0 (Medcalc Company, Brussels, Belgium). Propensity score-matched analysis was performed using R software (TIBCO, Silicon Valley, CA, USA).


Patient characteristics

Between January 2001 and December 2010, a total of 2489 patients with ESCC underwent open esophagectomy at the three institutions. The study cohort consisted of 862 patients with ESCC who underwent surgery as primary therapy; 638 (74.0%) of them were male (Fig. 1). Before propensity score matching, the mean age of all patients was 60.1 ± 9.2 years. The median weight loss rate and BMI of these patients were 0.0% (range, 0–18.8%) and 22.06 kg/m2 (range, 14.98–32.96 kg/m2), respectively. After propensity score matching, mean age was 61.8 ± 9.0 years, the median weight loss rate was 3.1% (range, 0–18.8%), and the median BMI was 22.75 kg/m2 (range, 14.98–32.96 kg/m2). The characteristics of the 280 matched T2DM and non-T2DM patients are shown in Table 1. All further statistical analyses were performed on this population.

Fig. 1

The flow diagram of patient selection. ESCC esophageal squamous cell cancer, T2DM type 2 diabetes mellitus, pT pathological tumor, pN pathological node, pTNM pathological tumor/node/metastasis, BMI body mass index

Table 1 Characteristics of 862 ESCC patients with or without T2DM

Patient characteristics by T2DM

Of the 862 patients, 280 (32.5%) had T2DM and 582 (67.5%) did not. These two groups were well matched in weight loss rate, tumor location, tumor grade, pT category, pN category, and pTNM stage. However, the patients with T2DM were significantly older (P = 0.012), had higher percentage of smoking (P < 0.001), had a significantly higher percentage of female (P = 0.024), had a significantly higher BMI (P = 0.006), had significantly higher probability of no complications (P = 0.018), and had higher rates of postoperative anastomotic leakage (P = 0.001) than the patients without T2DM. After propensity score matching, all characteristics in the two groups were well matched, expect for the probability of no complication (P = 0.004) and postoperative anastomotic leak (P < 0.001) (Table 1).

Overall survival and T2DM

The median and mean OS were 45.5 and 39.0 months, respectively. The 1-, 3-, and 5-year OS rates for the entire patient cohort were 86.6%, 53.2%, and 30.2%, respectively (Fig. 2a). Log-rank test showed that the OS rate tended to be higher in ESCC patients with T2DM than in those without T2DM, but the difference between them was not significant (P = 0.563, Fig. 2b).

Fig. 2

The Kaplan–Meier overall survival curves for a the entire cohort of patients with esophageal squamous cell cancer and b esophageal cancer patients with and without type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM)

The modeled area under curve (AUC) for weight loss rate was 0.593 (P < 0.001, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.551–0.634; Fig. 3). The diagnostic value of the weight loss rate was significantly associated with AUC, with the cutoff points for weight loss rate being 5.05%; the sensitivity and specificity of cutoff points were 0.616 and 0.595, respectively.

Fig. 3

The area under receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curves for weight loss rate in patients with esophageal squamous cell cancer

Subgroup analysis of patients with low weight loss rate (≤ 5.05%) showed that survival was significantly longer in patients with T2DM than in those without T2DM (P = 0.003, Fig. 4a). In contrast, analysis of patients with high weight loss rate (> 5.05%) showed that survival was significantly shorter in patient with T2DM than in those without T2DM (P = 0.001, Fig. 4b).

Fig. 4

Overall survival curves for the esophageal cancer patients with weight loss rate ≤ 5.05% (a) and > 5.05% (b), retrospectively, according to the presence or absence of type 2 diabetes mellitus

Univariate and multivariable analyses

Univariate analysis showed that T2DM was not significantly associated with patient survival. In contrast, sex (hazard ratio [HR] 0.769; P = 0.030), weight loss rate (HR 1.168; P = 0.005), tumor grade (HR 1.489; P < 0.001), pT category (HR 1.642; P < 0.001), pN category (HR 1.820; P < 0.001), and pTNM stage (HR 2.270; P < 0.001) were significantly associated with the survival of patients with ESCC (Table 2). In multivariate analysis, only tumor grade (HR 1.373; P < 0.001) and pN category (HR 1.474; P = 0.001) were significantly associated with patient survival (Table 2).

Table 2 Univariate and multivariate cox regression analysis for overall survival in patients with ESCC


The present study found no significant difference in OS between the ESCC patients with T2DM and those without T2DM. Analysis of the subgroup of patients with weight loss rate ≤ 5.05% showed that OS was significantly longer in patients with T2DM than in those without T2DM, whereas analysis of the subgroup with weight loss rate > 5.05% showed that OS was significantly shorter in patients with T2DM than in those without T2DM.

Although the underlying impact of T2DM on ESCC prognosis is unclear, several possible mechanisms have been proposed. Metabolic abnormalities associated with diabetes, such as insulin resistance, compensatory hyperinsulinemia, and elevated levels of bioactive insulin-like growth factor and/or chronic inflammation, can stimulate cancer cell mitogenesis, proliferation, invasion, and metastasis, enhancing tumorigenesis and progression [19]. Hyperinsulinemia has been shown to increase bioavailable estrogen and testosterone [20], sex hormones that play a role in the development of ESCC [21]. In addition, early evidence suggests that some treatments of diabetes may affect cancer risk [19]. For example, exposure to metformin was reported to be significantly associated with prolonged survival in patients with various types of cancer, including thyroid cancer [22], colorectal cancer [23], laryngeal squamous cell cancer [24], melanoma [25], and pancreatic cancer [26]. Delayed gastric emptying is frequent in patients with diabetes, increasing the likelihood of gastric/esophageal reflux, a risk factor for ESCC [27,28,29]. However, the association between T2DM and ESCC remains complicated and ambiguous, including a need for additional studies.

The present study showed that T2DM was associated with several clinical factors of patients with ESCC. In accordance with the previous studies [30, 31], we found that T2DM was more likely to occur in older patients, women, patients with a history of smoking, and patients with a high BMI. Our findings also demonstrated that the rate of anastomotic leakage was almost threefold higher in patients with T2DM than in those without T2DM. One of the adverse consequences of hyperglycemia is wound healing delay, which may lead to anastomotic leakage [31].

Interestingly, survival benefits seen in patients with T2DM have been reported to depend on more frequent and regular consultations, resulting in an earlier diagnosis [11]. However, because of the drawbacks of our clinical follow-up data, we could not compare the frequencies of consultations between the two groups of patients.

Despite the potential contributions of T2DM to survival benefits in patients with ESCC, the effect of T2DM on metabolism cannot be ignored. Nutritional support remains a cornerstone in the management of ESCC and has been shown to ameliorate patients’ tolerance of treatment, quality of life, and long-term outcomes. The combination of ESCC and T2DM may present great challenges to patients in a multitude of nutrition-related areas. Severe weight loss, which may result from dysphagia, cancer-related cachexia, and/or uncontrolled diabetes mellitus, is a prognostic factor in patients with ESCC [32]. Based on these considerations, a logical and plausible interpretation of our findings was that severe weight loss may mask the negative prognostic effect of T2DM in patients with ESCC.

Despite showing the impact of T2DM on the prognosis of ESCC patients, the present study had several limitations. First, our study was a retrospective study, and the number of patients was relatively small, particularly in subgroup analyses, which increases the likelihood of spurious associations. Second, this study did not evaluate the usage of anti-diabetic drugs and the frequency of consultations because of incomplete clinical data. Therefore, additional investigations, especially multi-center prospective randomized controlled trials with adequate statistical power are required to determine whether and how T2DM affects the survival of patients with ESCC.


Type 2 diabetes mellitus was not found to be an independent prognostic factor of OS in patients with ESCC. However, the combination of T2DM and severe weight loss may be used as a predictor of poor prognosis.



body mass index


esophageal cancer


esophageal squamous cell cancer


hazard ratio


type 2 diabetes mellitus


overall survival


pathological tumor


pathological node


pathological tumor/node/metastasis

95% CI:

95% confidence interval


computed tomography


receiver operating characteristic


  1. 1.

    Chen W, Zheng R, Zeng H, Zhang S. The incidence and mortality of major cancers in china, 2012. Chin J Cancer. 2016;35(1):73.

  2. 2.

    Malhotra G, Yanala U, Ravipati A, Follet M, Vijayakumar M, Are C. Global trends in esophageal cancer. J Surg Oncol. 2017;115(5):564–79.

  3. 3.

    Wu CC, Chen CJ. Esophageal carcinoma. N Engl J Med. 2015;372(15):1472.

  4. 4.

    Maffi P, Secchi A. The burden of diabetes: emerging data. Dev Ophthalmol. 2017;60:1–5.

  5. 5.

    Singh S, Singh PP, Singh AG, Murad MH, McWilliams RR, Chari ST. Anti-diabetic medications and risk of pancreatic cancer in patients with diabetes mellitus: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Gastroenterol. 2013;108(4):510–9.

  6. 6.

    Wang C, Wang X, Gong G, Ben Q, Qiu W, Chen Y, et al. Increased risk of hepatocellular carcinoma in patients with diabetes mellitus: a systematic review and meta-analysis of cohort studies. Int J Cancer. 2012;130(7):1639–48.

  7. 7.

    Shau WY, Shao YY, Yeh YC, Lin ZZ, Kuo R, Hsu CH, et al. Diabetes mellitus is associated with increased mortality in patients receiving curative therapy for hepatocellular carcinoma. Oncologist. 2012;17(6):856–62.

  8. 8.

    Jiang Y, Ben Q, Shen H, Lu W, Zhang Y, Zhu J. Diabetes mellitus and incidence and mortality of colorectal cancer: a systematic review and meta-analysis of cohort studies. Eur J Epidemiol. 2011;26(11):863–76.

  9. 9.

    Ge Z, Ben Q, Qian J, Wang Y, Li Y. Diabetes mellitus and risk of gastric cancer: a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies. Eur J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2011;23(12):1127–35.

  10. 10.

    Larsson SC, Wolk A. Diabetes mellitus and incidence of kidney cancer: a meta-analysis of cohort studies. Diabetologia. 2011;54(5):1013–8.

  11. 11.

    Xu H, Jiang HW, Ding GX, Zhang H, Zhang LM, Mao SH, et al. Diabetes mellitus and prostate cancer risk of different grade or stage: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Diabetes Res Clin Pract. 2013;99(3):241–9.

  12. 12.

    Hatlen P, Gronberg BH, Langhammer A, Carlsen SM, Amundsen T. Prolonged survival in lung cancer patients with diabetes mellitus. J Thorac Oncol. 2011;6(11):1810–7.

  13. 13.

    Varlotto J, Medford-Davis LN, Recht A, Flickinger J, Schaefer E, Shelkey J, et al. Confirmation of the role of diabetes in the local recurrence of surgically resected non-small cell lung cancer. Lung Cancer. 2012;75(3):381–90.

  14. 14.

    Hemminki K, Li X, Sundquist J, Sundquist K. Risk of cancer following hospitalization for type 2 diabetes. Oncologist. 2010;15(6):548–55.

  15. 15.

    Bosetti C, Rosato V, Polesel J, Levi F, Talamini R, Montella M, et al. Diabetes mellitus and cancer risk in a network of case-control studies. Nutr Cancer. 2012;64(5):643–51.

  16. 16.

    Huang W, Ren H, Ben Q, Cai Q, Zhu W, Li Z. Risk of esophageal cancer in diabetes mellitus: a meta-analysis of observational studies. Cancer Causes Control. 2012;23(2):263–72.

  17. 17.

    American Diabetes Association. Classification and diagnosis of diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2015;38(Suppl):S8–16.

  18. 18.

    Zhan X, Guo X, Liu R, Hu W, Zhang L, Xiang N. Intervention using a novel biodegradable hollow stent containing polylactic acid-polyprolactone-polyethylene glycol complexes against lacrimal duct obstruction disease. PLoS ONE. 2017;12(6):e0178679.

  19. 19.

    Giovannucci E, Harlan DM, Archer MC, Bergenstal RM, Gapstur SM, Habel LA, et al. Diabetes and cancer: a consensus report. Diabetes Care. 2010;33(7):1674–85.

  20. 20.

    Calle EE, Kaaks R. Overweight, obesity and cancer: epidemiological evidence and proposed mechanisms. Nat Rev Cancer. 2004;4(8):579–91.

  21. 21.

    Cronin-Fenton DP, Murray LJ, Whiteman DC, Cardwell C, Webb PM, Jordan SJ, et al. Reproductive and sex hormonal factors and oesophageal and gastric junction adenocarcinoma: a pooled analysis. Eur J Cancer. 2010;46(11):2067–76.

  22. 22.

    Klubo-Gwiezdzinska J, Costello J Jr, Patel A, Bauer A, Jensen K, Mete M, et al. Treatment with metformin is associated with higher remission rate in diabetic patients with thyroid cancer. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2013;98(8):3269–79.

  23. 23.

    Spillane S, Bennett K, Sharp L, Barron TI. A cohort study of metformin exposure and survival in patients with stage I–III colorectal cancer. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2013;22(8):1364–73.

  24. 24.

    Sandulache VC, Hamblin JS, Skinner HD, Kubik MW, Myers JN, Zevallos JP. Association between metformin use and improved survival in patients with laryngeal squamous cell carcinoma. Head Neck. 2014;36(7):1039–43.

  25. 25.

    Cerezo M, Tichet M, Abbe P, Ohanna M, Lehraiki A, Rouaud F, et al. Metformin blocks melanoma invasion and metastasis development in ampk/p53-dependent manner. Mol Cancer Ther. 2013;12(8):1605–15.

  26. 26.

    Karnevi E, Said K, Andersson R, Rosendahl AH. Metformin-mediated growth inhibition involves suppression of the IGF-I receptor signalling pathway in human pancreatic cancer cells. BMC Cancer. 2013;13:235.

  27. 27.

    Wu AH, Tseng CC, Bernstein L. Hiatal hernia, reflux symptoms, body size, and risk of esophageal and gastric adenocarcinoma. Cancer. 2003;98(5):940–8.

  28. 28.

    Samsom M, Vermeijden J, Smout A, Van D, Roelofs J, Van DP, et al. Prevalence of delayed gastric emptying in diabetic patients and relationship to dyspeptic symptoms: a prospective study in unselected diabetic patients. Diabetes Care. 2003;26(11):3116–22.

  29. 29.

    Zhen F, Shi S, Xue L, Liu J, Luo J. Study on the association of gastric conduit width and postoperative early delayed gastric emptying in middle-lower esophageal cancer patients undergoing ivor-lewis procedure. Zhonghua Wei Chang Wai Ke Za Zhi. 2016;19(9):985–9.

  30. 30.

    Nayak BS, Butcher DM, Bujhawan S, Chang D, Chang S, Cabral-Samaroo D, et al. Association of low serum creatinine, abnormal lipid profile, gender, age and ethnicity with type 2 diabetes mellitus in trinidad and tobago. Diabetes Res Clin Pract. 2011;91(3):342–7.

  31. 31.

    Golightly LK, Jones MA, Hamamura DH, Stolpman NM, McDermott MT. Management of diabetes mellitus in hospitalized patients: efficiency and effectiveness of sliding-scale insulin therapy. Pharmacotherapy. 2006;26(10):1421–32.

  32. 32.

    Miller KR, Bozeman MC. Nutrition therapy issues in esophageal cancer. Curr Gastroenterol Rep. 2012;14(4):356–66.

Download references

Authors’ contributions

Contributions: (I) conception and design: WY, JHH; (II) administrative support: ZHZ, JPL; (III) provision of study materials or patients: WY, YQM; (IV) collection and assembly of data: WY, MJL; (V) data analysis and interpretation: WY, WZF. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.


Not applicable.

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Availability of data and materials

The datasets used and/or analyzed during the current study available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

Consent publication

Not applicable.

Ethics approval and consent to participate

The study was approved by Ethics Committee of the Sun-Yat Sen University, Guangzhou and Lanzhou University, Lanzhou.


There is not any funding for supporting this study.

Author information

Correspondence to Jiaping Li or Zhihua Zhu.

Rights and permissions

Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Yao, W., Meng, Y., Lu, M. et al. Impact of type 2 diabetes mellitus on short-term and long-term outcomes of patients with esophageal squamous cell cancer undergoing resection: a propensity score analysis. Cancer Commun 38, 14 (2018).

Download citation


  • Type 2 diabetes mellitus
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Prognosis
  • Overall survival