Nutrition, insulin, insulin-like growth factors and cancer

Horm Metab Res. Nov-Dec 2003;35(11-12):694-704. doi: 10.1055/s-2004-814147.


The incidence of colon, pancreatic, and kidney cancers, as well as aggressive prostate cancer in men, and breast and endometrial cancer in women is invariably high in Western countries. Nutritional and related factors have been typically implicated. This review presents a model integrating nutrition, insulin and IGF-1 physiology ("bioactive" IGF-1), and carcinogenesis based on the following: (1) insulin and the IGF-1 axis function in an integrated fashion to promote cell growth and survival; (2) chronic exposure to these growth properties enhances carcinogenesis; (3) factors that influence bioactive IGF-1 will affect cancer risk. The model presented here summarizes the data that chronic exposure to high levels of insulin and IGF-1 may mediate many of the risk factors for some cancers that are high in Western populations. This hypothesis may help explain some of the epidemiologic patterns observed for these cancers, both from a cross-national perspective and within populations. Of particular importance is that some of relevant factors are modifiable through nutritional and lifestyle interventions. Out of a variety of perspectives presented, nutritional manipulation through the insulin pathway may be more feasible than attempting to influence total IGF-1 concentrations, which are determined largely by growth hormone. Further study is required to test these conclusions.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acromegaly / complications
  • Acromegaly / physiopathology
  • Animals
  • Human Growth Hormone / genetics
  • Humans
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor Binding Protein 3 / physiology
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor I / physiology*
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor II / physiology*
  • Models, Biological
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Neoplasms / physiopathology*
  • Nutritional Physiological Phenomena / physiology*
  • Risk Factors


  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor Binding Protein 3
  • Human Growth Hormone
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor I
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor II