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Elevated Insulin Levels Linked to Breast Cancer

Study finds strong association in postmenopausal women

THURSDAY, July 23 (HealthDay News) -- Postmenopausal women with elevated insulin levels may be at higher risk of developing breast cancer, a new study says.

Researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University in New York City found a strong association between elevated insulin levels in the blood and increased risk of breast cancer. Their findings were published online in the International Journal of Cancer.

"Up to now, only a few studies have directly investigated whether insulin levels are associated with breast cancer risk," said Geoffrey Kabat, the lead author and senior epidemiologist in the department of epidemiology and population health at Einstein. "Our study involved analyzing repeated measurements of insulin taken over several years -- which provides a more accurate picture of the possible association between insulin levels and breast cancer risk."

Kabat's team examined data on 5,450 women who took part in the Women's Health Initiative, a large study that looked at how various factors influence women's health. The researchers found that women with insulin levels in the highest third were twice as likely to develop breast cancer as women in the bottom third. The team also discovered that the link between elevated insulin levels and breast cancer was stronger for thin women than for obese women, who tend to have higher insulin levels.

"This finding is potentially important because it indicates that, in postmenopausal women, insulin may be a risk factor for breast cancer that is independent of obesity," Kabat said in the news release.

The study is ongoing, but Kabat recommended that postmenopausal women try to keep insulin at normal levels through weight loss, regular exercise and other methods.

More information

More on breast cancer can be found at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

-- Peter West

SOURCE: Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, news release, July 2009

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