Insulin, insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I), IGF binding proteins, their biologic interactions, and colorectal cancer

J Natl Cancer Inst. 2002 Jul 3;94(13):972-80. doi: 10.1093/jnci/94.13.972.


Secular changes and worldwide variations in incidence rates of colorectal cancer, along with results from twin and migrant studies, provide compelling evidence that environmental factors influence the risk of this disease. Among the most important of these factors are diet and associated factors, such as physical activity and body size. Recent data suggest that dietary and related factors may influence colorectal cancer risk via their effects on serum insulin concentrations and on the bioavailability of insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I). Epidemiologic studies have shown that IGF-I is positively associated with the risk of colorectal cancer, and experimental studies have shown that IGF-I has mitogenic and antiapoptotic actions on colorectal cancer cells. IGF-I bioactivity is regulated in part by its six binding proteins (IGFBP-1 to IGFBP-6); insulin inhibits the production of IGFBP-1 and perhaps IGFBP-2. As a result, chronically elevated fasting and postprandial insulin levels may lead to a decrease in circulating IGFBP-1 and IGFBP-2 concentrations and, consequently, an increase in IGF-I bioavailability. Insulin may also increase the circulating IGF-I/IGFBP-3 ratio by increasing hepatic growth hormone sensitivity. The increased IGF-I bioavailability may, over time, increase the risk of colorectal cancer. This new evidence for biologic interactions among insulin, IGF-I, and IGFBPs in the context of colorectal carcinogenesis provides a potential mechanism through which diet and associated factors may increase the risk of this cancer.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Insulin / metabolism*
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor Binding Proteins / metabolism*
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor I / metabolism*


  • Insulin
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor Binding Proteins
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor I