Growth hormone (GH), insulin-like growth factor (IGF)-I and insulin have potent growth-promoting and anabolic actions. Their potential involvement in tumor promotion and progression has been of concern for several decades. The evidence that GH, IGF-I and insulin can promote and contribute to cancer progression comes from various sources, including transgenic and knockout mouse models and animal and human cell lines derived from cancers. Assessments of the GHĝ€"IGF axis in healthy individuals followed up to assess cancer incidence provide direct evidence of this risk; raised IGF-I levels in blood are associated with a slightly increased risk of some cancers. Studies of human diseases characterized by excess growth factor secretion or treated with growth factors have produced reassuring data, with no notable increases in de novo cancers in children treated with GH. Although follow-up for the vast majority of these children does not yet extend beyond young adulthood, a slight increase in cancers in those with long-standing excess GH secretion (as seen in patients with acromegaly) and no overall increase in cancer with insulin treatment, have been observed. Nevertheless, long-term surveillance for cancer incidence in all populations exposed to increased levels of GH is vitally important. © 2010 Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved.