[Plasma insulin, IGF-I and breast cancer]

Gynecol Obstet Fertil. 2001 Mar;29(3):185-91. doi: 10.1016/s1297-9589(00)00047-3.
[Article in French]


Several recent epidemiological studies have shown an increase in breast cancer risk among women who have elevated plasma levels of testosterone, reduced levels of sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG), and hence elevated levels of bioavailable androgens and estrogens not bound to SHBG. This endocrine profile is generally associated with obesity and chronic hyperinsulinemia, of which it is most likely a result. Lack of physical activity, obesity, and a diet rich in rapidly digestible carbohydrates and poor in fibre favour the development of insulin resistance and hyperinsulinemia. The elevated insulin levels, in turn are related to decreases in plasma and tissue levels of IGFBP-1 and IGFBP-2 (insulin-like growth factor-binding proteins), and this may increase the availability of insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I) to its receptors. Like insulin, IGF-I also inhibits the hepatic synthesis of SHBG, whereas both hormones stimulate the ovarian synthesis of sex steroids. Moreover, insulin and IGF-I can both enhance the development of breast tumours, through their cognate receptors within the mammary tissue. Taken together, these observations lead to the hypothesis that breast cancer risk may be increased in women with elevated plasma insulin levels, and/or with elevated levels of bioactive IGF-I. Hyperinsulinemia and an increased IGF-I bioactivity could thus be an important physiological link between a western lifestyle, overnutrition, a hyperandrogenic sex steroid profile, and increased breast cancer risk. Prospective cohort studies will be needed to test this hypothesis, and to study in greater detail the possible relationships of breast cancer risk with plasma levels of IGF-I and IGFBPs. Confirmation of a relationship of breast cancer risk with plasma insulin levels, on the one hand, or with total plasma IGF-I, on the other hand, could open up new perspectives for breast cancer prevention, either by changes in dietary intake patterns and physical activity, or by the use of certain chemopreventive drugs.

Publication types

  • English Abstract
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms / blood*
  • Breast Neoplasms / etiology
  • Diet
  • Female
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones / blood
  • Humans
  • Insulin / blood*
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor I / analysis*
  • Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Risk Factors


  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones
  • Insulin
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor I