BACKGROUND: The insulin receptor (INSR) and the insulin growth factor 1 receptor (IGF1R) play important roles in the etiology of both diabetes mellitus and breast cancer. We aimed to evaluate the expression of hormone and insulin-related proteins within or related to the PI3K and MAPK pathway in breast tumors of women with or without diabetes mellitus, treated with or without insulin (analogues).

METHODS: Immunohistochemistry was performed on tumor tissue of 312 women with invasive breast cancer, with or without pre-existing diabetes mellitus, diagnosed in 2000-2010, who were randomly selected from a Danish breast cancer cohort. Women with diabetes were 2:1 frequency matched by year of birth and age at breast cancer diagnosis to those without diabetes. Tumor Microarrays were successfully stained for p-ER, EGFR, p-ERK1/2, p-mTOR, and IGF1R, and scored by a breast pathologist. Associations of expression of these proteins with diabetes, insulin treatment (human insulin and insulin analogues) and other diabetes medication were evaluated by multivariable logistic regression adjusting for menopause and BMI; effect modification by menopausal status, BMI, and ER status was assessed using interactions terms.

RESULTS: We found no significant differences in expression of any of the proteins in breast tumors of women with (n = 211) and without diabetes (n = 101). Among women with diabetes, insulin use (n = 53) was significantly associated with higher tumor protein expression of IGF1R (OR = 2.36; 95%CI:1.02-5.52; p = 0.04) and p-mTOR (OR = 2.35; 95%CI:1.13-4.88; p = 0.02), especially among women treated with insulin analogues. Menopause seemed to modified the association between insulin and IGF1R expression (p = 0.07); the difference in IGF1R expression was only observed in tumors of premenopausal women (OR = 5.10; 95%CI:1.36-19.14; p = 0.02). We found no associations between other types of diabetes medication, such as metformin, and protein expression of the five proteins evaluated.

CONCLUSIONS: In our study, breast tumors of women with pre-existing diabetes did not show an altered expression of selected PI3K/MAPK pathway-related proteins. We observed an association between insulin treatment and increased p-mTOR and IGF1R expression of breast tumors, especially in premenopausal women. This observation, if confirmed, might be clinically relevant since the use of IGF1R and mTOR inhibitors are currently investigated in clinical trials.

Original languageEnglish
Article number224
Number of pages11
JournalBMC Cancer
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 27 Feb 2018


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