Obesity, weight change, fasting insulin, proinsulin, C-peptide, and insulin-like growth factor-1 levels in women with and without breast cancer: the Rancho Bernardo Study

J Womens Health Gend Based Med. 1999 Dec;8(10):1265-72. doi: 10.1089/jwh.1.1999.8.1265.


Postmenopausal overweight women have an increased risk of breast cancer. The link between obesity and breast cancer could be mediated through hyperinsulinemia. Insulin and insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) stimulate mammary cell proliferation in vitro, and cell proliferation is directly linked to the risk of breast cancer. Our objective was to investigate the relationship between breast cancer and body composition, IGF-1, proinsulin, C-peptide, and fasting insulin. A case-control study was conducted of 438 community-dwelling women aged 53-90 years in 1992-1994 who had no history of cancer at the baseline visit in 1972-1974. Women were excluded who were using estrogen replacement therapy (ERT) or tamoxifen at the 1992-1994 visit, when IGF-1, proinsulin, fasting insulin, and C-peptide levels were measured. Prior ERT, alcohol and tobacco use, exercise, and reproductive history were recorded. Weight, height, and waist/hip ratio were measured. The 45 women with breast cancer had similar baseline body mass indices to the 393 women without breast cancer but had gained significantly more weight between the baseline visit in 1972-1974 and 1992-1994, (age-adjusted relative risk [RR] 1.05/kg, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.01-1.09, p = 0.016). Proinsulin, fasting insulin, and C-peptide were each significantly positively correlated with both current weight and weight gain. However, levels of these hormones and IGF-1 did not differ significantly between women with and without breast cancer (all 95% CI within 0.996-1.004). Past ERT was significantly more common among women with breast cancer (p = 0.015), and duration of use was significantly longer (age-adjusted RR 1.13 per year of use, 95% CI 1.08-1.18, p = 0.000). The risk of breast cancer was significantly increased in women who had gained weight or used ERT. This increased risk was not associated with circulating levels of IGF-1, fasting insulin, proinsulin, or C-peptide.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Body Weight Changes*
  • Breast Neoplasms / blood*
  • Breast Neoplasms / etiology
  • C-Peptide / blood*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Estrogen Replacement Therapy
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Insulin / blood*
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor I / metabolism*
  • Life Style
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / blood*
  • Obesity / complications
  • Proinsulin / blood*
  • Risk Factors


  • C-Peptide
  • Insulin
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor I
  • Proinsulin