Can High Insulin Levels in Diabetes Cause Cancer?

Hyperinsulinemia, abnormally high blood levels of insulin during the early course of diabetes, may increase the risk of cancer.


Hyperinsulinemia occurs commonly during the early stages of type 2 diabetes. Since insulin promotes the growth of cancer cells, the link between its high blood levels and cancer risk is likely. Interestingly, previous studies suggest hyperinsulinemia may lead to cancers of the colon, prostate, and pancreas specifically.

The Link Between Hyperinsulinemia in Diabetes and Increased Cancer Risk

Cancer refers to an uncontrolled cellular multiplication that leads to the formation a mass of cancer cells known as a tumor. Carcinogens are substances that cause or promote cancer. However, cancer has a complex origin and seems to result from a combined effect of defective genes and environmental factors. The environmental factors can include obesity, smoking, physical inactivity, and chemical exposure. Unfortunately, some patients with diabetes may also be more likely to have cancer progress in their bodies.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 10% of Americans have diabetes. Thus, it is critically important to learn how hyperinsulinemia can lead to cancer.

Top 3 Ways Hyperinsulinemia in Diabetes and Cancer are Linked

#1. Insulin increases the availability of growth factors that promote cancer cell division.

Growth factors are proteins and steroidal hormones that promote healing by stimulating growth and cell division. Unfortunately, the same action may also feed cancer cells. Most notably, insulin-like growth factors (IGFs) may promote cancer progression by stimulating multiplication of cancer cells, blocking apoptosis, and enhancing the effects of cancer-promoting sex hormones. Apoptosis is a natural process that clears injured, unnecessary cells by destroying them at a preset time.

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#2. Hyperinsulinemia in diabetes can cause chronic inflammation.

There is a two-way relationship between diabetes and inflammation. Simply put, one condition can cause another. Hyperinsulinemia significantly raises the markers of inflammation in the brain. Keep in mind that chronic inflammation is a well-known risk factor for many types of cancer.

#3. Hyperinsulinemia could result due to the pancreatic tumor.

On rare occasions, a tumor of the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas, insulinoma, can cause abnormally high insulin levels. That said, abnormally high levels of insulin could be indicative of cancer.

  • Acta Diabetologica. URL Link. Retrieved November 6, 2017.
  • Gastroenterology. URL Link. Retrieved November 6, 2017.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). URL Link. Retrieved November 6, 2017.
  • Oncology. URL Link. Retrieved November 6, 2017.

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Shailesh is a registered pharmacist and freelance medical writer from Nepal. He has a keen interest in psychology, behavioral science, and health technology. He loves coffee, traveling, cricket and reading.