The role of insulin and IGF system in pancreatic cancer

J Mol Endocrinol. 2013 Apr 23;50(3):R67-74. doi: 10.1530/JME-12-0259. Print 2013 Jun.


The importance of the IGF system in carcinogenesis has been established for many solid cancers. It is well known that individuals with higher circulating levels of the IGF1 ligand present an increased risk of cancer. However, therapies with monoclonal antibodies targeting the IGF1 receptor (IGF1R) have been largely unsuccessful. One of the potential reasons for this failure is the existence of the highly homologous insulin receptor (IR), which appears to be at least equally efficient as the IGF1R in the transition of mitogenic signals to the nucleus and promotion of cell growth. Furthermore, IGF1 and insulin receptors can form hybrid receptors sensitive to stimulation of all three ligands of the system: insulin, IGF1, and IGF2. Although the connection between insulin, diabetes, and cancer has been established for years now, clear evidence that demonstrate the redundancy of insulin and insulin receptors and insulin-like growth factors and their receptors in cancer is missing. In this review, we focus on the contribution of insulin and IGFs to carcinogenesis in the insulin-producing organ, the pancreas. We give a short summary on the complexity of insulin and the IGF system in the pancreas and their potential roles in pancreatic cancer, especially pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma. Finally, we discuss drug-targeting options of this system and the rationale of simultaneous targeting of both the insulin and the IGF systems.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Insulin / metabolism*
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor I / metabolism
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor II / metabolism
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Receptor, Insulin / metabolism
  • Somatomedins / metabolism*


  • Insulin
  • Somatomedins
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor I
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor II
  • Receptor, Insulin