Cancer risk among insulin users: comparing analogues with human insulin in the CARING five-country cohort study

Diabetologia. 2017 Sep;60(9):1691-1703. doi: 10.1007/s00125-017-4312-5. Epub 2017 Jun 1.


Aims/hypothesis: The aim of this work was to investigate the relationship between use of certain insulins and risk for cancer, when addressing the limitations and biases involved in previous studies.

Methods: National Health Registries from Denmark (1996-2010), Finland (1996-2011), Norway (2005-2010) and Sweden (2007-2012) and the UK Clinical Practice Research Datalink database (1987-2013) were used to conduct a cohort study on new insulin users (N = 327,112). By using a common data model and semi-aggregate approach, we pooled individual-level records from five cohorts and applied Poisson regression models. For each of ten cancer sites studied, we estimated the rate ratios (RRs) by duration (≤0.5, 0.5-1, 1-2, 2-3, 3-4, 4-5, 5-6 and >6 years) of cumulative exposure to insulin glargine or insulin detemir relative to that of human insulin.

Results: A total of 21,390 cancer cases occurred during a mean follow-up of 4.6 years. No trend with cumulative treatment time for insulin glargine relative to human insulin was observed in risk for any of the ten studied cancer types. Of the 136 associations tested in the main analysis, only a few increased and decreased risks were found: among women, a higher risk was observed for colorectal (RR 1.54, 95% CI 1.06, 2.25) and endometrial cancer (RR 1.78, 95% CI 1.07, 2.94) for ≤0.5 years of treatment and for malignant melanoma for 2-3 years (RR 1.92, 95% CI 1.02, 3.61) and 4-5 years (RR 3.55, 95% CI 1.68, 7.47]); among men, a lower risk was observed for pancreatic cancer for 2-3 years (RR 0.34, 95% CI 0.17, 0.66) and for liver cancer for 3-4 years (RR 0.36, 95% CI 0.14, 0.94) and >6 years (RR 0.22, 95% CI 0.05, 0.92). Comparisons of insulin detemir with human insulin also showed no consistent differences.

Conclusions/interpretation: The present multi-country study found no evidence of consistent differences in risk for ten cancers for insulin glargine or insulin detemir use compared with human insulin, at follow-up exceeding 5 years.

Keywords: Cancer risk; Cohort study; Common data model; Cumulative treatment time; Detemir; Glargine; Human insulin; Insulin analogues; New insulin user; Poisson model; Rate ratio; Semi-aggregate; Site-specific.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypoglycemic Agents / adverse effects
  • Hypoglycemic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Insulin / adverse effects
  • Insulin / therapeutic use*
  • Insulin Detemir / adverse effects
  • Insulin Detemir / radiation effects
  • Insulin Glargine / adverse effects
  • Insulin Glargine / therapeutic use
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Regression Analysis
  • Young Adult


  • Hypoglycemic Agents
  • Insulin
  • Insulin Glargine
  • Insulin Detemir