Insulin and cancer

Integr Cancer Ther. 2003 Dec;2(4):315-29. doi: 10.1177/1534735403259152.


Obesity has recently been linked to mortality from the majority of cancers. The insulin/insulin-like growth factor (IGF) system may partly explain this effect. The metabolic syndrome, associated with hyperinsulinemia, may modulate this effect. Recent evidence supports the role of insulin and IGF-1 as important growth factors, acting through the tyrosine kinase growth factor cascade in enhancing tumor cell proliferation. In addition, the metabolic syndrome associated with a chronic inflammatory state and accompanying cytokine abnormalities may also contribute to tumor progression. Growing links between insulin and the etiology as well as prognosis in colon, prostate, pancreatic, and, particularly, breast cancer are reviewed. Of particular concern is the evidence that elevated IGF-1 may interfere with cancer therapy, adversely affecting prognosis. The role of insulin is of concern because of the increasing levels of obesity and the associated metabolic syndrome. Weight gain, through typical Western diet; limited levels of activity; and, more recently, stress-related changes in neuroendocrine function may lead to insulin resistance and hyperinsulinemia. The opportunity for a multidisciplinary approach involving nutrition, exercise, and stress reduction in an integrative setting may be crucial to limiting the insulin-resistant state and improving cancer outcomes.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Insulin / metabolism*
  • Metabolic Syndrome / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / complications*
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Obesity / complications*
  • Obesity / epidemiology
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • United States / epidemiology


  • Insulin