Association between breast and colorectal cancers

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The risk of breast and colorectal cancers in immigrants from non-industrialised countries is sharply increased when they adopt a Western lifestyle. In addition, epidemiological studies on Western populations show an association between the two tumours, both in the same individual and also in close relatives. Most studies agree that high energy intake, obesity and inadequate physical exercise are associated with an increased risk of both tumours.


Risk markers for each cancer are examined in order to identify causative nutritional factors or metabolic-endocrine dysfunction. The role of steroid hormones and other possible carcinogenic mechanisms is discussed, concentrating on evidence of a role for insulin and insulin-like growth factors (IGFs) in the promotion of carcinogenesis in both organs.


Individuals with a genetic susceptibility to insulin resistance show triggering of hyperinsulinaemia following excessive weight gain or long-term diet high in saturated fat. Case-control studies show an association between hyperinsulinaemia and evidence of breast or colorectal carcinoma. Multiple laboratory studies show that increased activity of IGFs can stimulate the growth of human breast and colorectal cancer cells.


It is postulated that either insulin resistance and its concomitants promote the development of breast and colorectal cancers, or that they share common risk factors. Sex steroid metabolism and organ specificity may explain age and sex differences between the tumours in relation to the role of obesity. Recent research suggests that a diet high in n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids may reduce the risk of developing insulin resistance. This observation may be applied to test the hypothesis that an effect on hyperinsulinaemia may modify the risk of developing breast or colorectal cancer.

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