Insulin: a novel factor in carcinogenesis

Am J Med Sci. 2002 Mar;323(3):140-5. doi: 10.1097/00000441-200203000-00004.


Cancer is a leading cause of mortality in the United States. Despite much research on specific carcinogens, the cause of many cancers remains unclear. The identification of novel causative agents offers the potential for cancer prevention. Diseases such as obesity and diabetes mellitus, characterized by hyperinsulinemia, are associated with increased risk of endometrial, colorectal, and breast carcinomas. There is increasing evidence that insulin is a growth factor for tumor formation. The mechanisms underlying insulin-mediated neoplasia may include enhanced DNA synthesis with resultant tumor cell growth, inhibition of apoptosis, and altered sex hormone milieu. The reduced insulin levels seen with physical activity, weight loss, and a high fiber diet may account for decreased cancer risk. The role of newer drugs that restore sensitivity to insulin, thereby reducing hyperinsulinemia, is an exciting potential area of cancer prevention. In this review, we discuss the potential role of insulin as a tumor growth factor.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Female
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones / physiology
  • Humans
  • Insulin / metabolism
  • Insulin / pharmacology
  • Insulin / physiology*
  • Male
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Neoplasms / physiopathology*
  • Receptor, Insulin / metabolism


  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones
  • Insulin
  • Receptor, Insulin