Perturbation of the insulin/insulin-like growth factor (IGF) signaling system is often cited as a mechanism driving breast cancer risk. A systematic review identified prospective cohort studies and Mendelian randomization studies that examined the effects of insulin/IGF signaling (IGF, their binding proteins (IGFBP), and markers of insulin resistance] on breast cancer risk. Meta-analyses generated effect estimates; risk of bias was assessed and the Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation system applied to evaluate the overall quality of the evidence. Four Mendelian randomization and 19 prospective cohort studies met our inclusion criteria. Meta-analysis of cohort studies confirmed that higher IGF-1 increased risk of breast cancer; this finding was supported by the Mendelian randomization studies. IGFBP-3 did not affect breast cancer. Meta analyses for connecting-peptide and fasting insulin showed small risk increases, but confidence intervals were wide and crossed the null. The quality of evidence obtained ranged from ‘very low’ to ‘moderate’. There were insufficient studies to examine other markers of insulin/IGF signaling. These findings do not strongly support the biological plausibility of the second part of the physical activity—insulin/IGF signaling system—breast cancer pathway. Robust conclusions cannot be drawn due to the dearth of high quality studies.

See related article by Swain et al., p. 2106

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