The widespread epidemic of obesity and type 2 diabetes has raised concern for the impact of these disorders as risk factors for cancer and has renewed the interest for studies regarding the involvement of hyperinsulinemia and insulin receptor (IR) in cancer progression. Overexpression of IR in cancer cells may explain their increased sensitivity to hyperinsulinemia. Moreover, IR isoform A (IR-A) together with autocrine production of its ligand IGF2 is emerging as an important mechanism of normal and cancer stem cell expansion and is a feature of several malignancies. De novo activation of the IR-A/IGF2 autocrine loop also represents a mechanism of resistance to anticancer therapies. Increasing knowledge of the IR role in cancer has important implications for cancer prevention, which should include control of insulin resistance and hyperinsulinemia in the population and meticulous evaluation of new antidiabetic drugs for their metabolic:mitogenic ratio. We are now aware that several anticancer treatments may induce or worsen insulin resistance that may limit therapy efficacy. Future anticancer therapies need to target the IR-A pathway in order to inhibit the tumor promoting effect of IR without impairing the metabolic effect of insulin.
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