The insulin-like growth factors (IGFs) are mitogens that play a pivotal role in regulating cell proliferation, differentiation, and apoptosis. The effects of IGFs are mediated through the IGF-I receptor, which is also involved in cell transformation induced by tumor virus proteins and oncogene products. Six IGF-binding proteins (IGFBPs) can inhibit or enhance the actions of IGFs. These opposing effects are determined by the structures of the binding proteins. The effects of IGFBPs on IGFs are regulated in part by IGFBP proteases. Laboratory studies have shown that IGFs exert strong mitogenic and antiapoptotic actions on various cancer cells. IGFs also act synergistically with other mitogenic growth factors and steroids and antagonize the effect of antiproliferative molecules on cancer growth. The role of IGFs in cancer is supported by epidemiologic studies, which have found that high levels of circulating IGF-I and low levels of IGFBP-3 are associated with increased risk of several common cancers, including those of the prostate, breast, colorectum, and lung. Evidence further suggests that certain lifestyles, such as one involving a high-energy diet, may increase IGF-I levels, a finding that is supported by animal experiments indicating that IGFs may abolish the inhibitory effect of energy restriction on cancer growth. Further investigation of the role of IGFs in linking high energy intake, increased cell proliferation, suppression of apoptosis, and increased cancer risk may provide new insights into the etiology of cancer and lead to new strategies for cancer prevention.