Insulin-like growth factor-I and binding protein-3 and risk of cancer

Horm Res. 1999;51 Suppl 3:34-41. doi: 10.1159/000053160.


Insulin-like growth factor (IGF)-I is an important mitogen required by some cell types to progress from the G1 phase to the S phase of the cell cycle. IGF binding proteins (IGFBPs) can have opposing actions, in part by binding IGF-I, but also by direct inhibitory effects on target cells. As mitogens and anti-apoptotic agents, IGFs may be important in carcinogenesis, possibly by increasing the risk of cellular transformation by enhancing cell turnover. Indeed, many types of neoplastic cells express or overexpress IGF-I receptors, which stimulate mitogenesis when activated by IGF-I in vitro. In vivo, tissue IGF bioactivity is determined not only by circulating IGF-I and IGFBP levels, but also by local production of IGFs, IGFBPs, and possibly IGFBP proteases that enhance IGF-I availability by cleaving IGFBPs. Because determinants of tissue IGF bioactivity appear to be regulated in parallel with circulating IGF-I level, it is reasonable to hypothesize that the substantial intraindividual variability in circulating levels of IGF-I and IGFBP-3 may be important in determining risk of some cancers. In recent epidemiologic studies, relatively high plasma IGF-I and low IGFBP-3 levels have been independently associated with greater risk of prostate cancer in men, breast cancer among premenopausal women, and colorectal adenoma and cancer in men and women and possibly lung cancer. These include prospective data from the Physicians' Health Study and the Nurses' Health Study. In general, two- to fourfold elevated risks have been observed for prostate cancer in men in the top quartile of IGF-I relative to those in the bottom quartile, and low levels of IGFBP-3 were associated with an approximate doubling of risk. For breast cancer, an association with IGF-I for postmenopausal women was not apparent, but strong associations were observed for premenopausal cases in the Nurses' Health Study. Further study is needed to confirm this subgroup finding in women. Recent data also indicate that high IGF-I and low IGFBP-3 increase risk of colorectal cancer and large or villous adenomas. Of note, for colorectal neoplasia, fourfold elevated risks were observed in men and women with low IGFBP-3, whereas high IGF-I was associated with a doubling of risk. These emerging epidemiologic data indicate that high levels of IGF-I and low levels of IGFBP-3 are associated with an increased risk of at least several types of carcinoma that are common in economically developed countries. Further study is required to determine the clinical relevance of these findings.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms / blood
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / blood
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor Binding Protein 3 / physiology*
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor I / physiology*
  • Lung Neoplasms / blood
  • Male
  • Neoplasms* / blood
  • Neoplasms* / epidemiology
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / blood
  • Risk Factors


  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor Binding Protein 3
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor I