Insulin Resistance and Breast Cancer

Last Modified: March 25, 2010


Dear OncoLink "Ask The Experts,"

Is there any evidence that breast cancer is linked to higher insulin levels or insulin resistance? Should survivors of breast cancer eat like diabetics?


Karen Wagner MS, RD, LDN, Clinical dietitian specialist for the Abramson Cancer Center, responds:

These are great question. There is limited evidence that breast cancer is related to higher insulin levels or insulin resistance separate from other conditions that tend to go along with these issues. For example, insulin resistance is most often seen in people who are over weight, eat a diet high in fat and simple carbohydrates, and get very little exercise. These are also things we know are linked to breast cancer. There is some data that seems to indicate that people who have a condition called ‘metabolic syndrome’, which means that they are overweight, have high blood pressure or high cholesterol, and insulin resistance, are more likely to develop breast cancer, especially in women who are post-menopausal. Insulin resistance as a separate issue is very difficult to separate out from the other issues that tend to go along with it. Many people have theorized that insulin resistance may play a role in developing breast cancer, but this is just starting to be studied. We will probably be hearing a lot more about this in the future.

The second question is a bit easier to answer. Yes. The current recommendations for people with diabetes are to eat more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes, and to limit simple sugars, saturated fats and fried foods. People on diabetic diets often limit portions of starchy foods and high fat meats. These are all healthy practices and are recommended for breast cancer survivors as well as people with diabetes. In fact, these eating styles are generally recommended for all healthy Americans. To find out more about healthy eating for people with diabetes visit:, and to find out more about recommendations for cancer survivors see, or and see for yourself how similar the recommendations are.

This question and answer was part of the OncoLink Brown Bag Chat Series, Exercise, Nutrition and Cancer Webchat. View the entire transcript here.