This study was designed to study the effect of systemic hyperinsulinaemia (INS) on glucose and protein metabolism in cancer patients. Sixteen cancer patients (8 >10% weight loss (WL); 8 < 10% weight loss (NWL)) were compared with 12 healthy controls. Glucose uptake (GU) and phenylalanine (PHE) exchange kinetics were measured across the forearm in the postabsorptive state (PA) and in response to INS (71 ± 5 μU ml-1). At steady state in response to INS, the negative PA PHE net balance became significantly positive, and GU significantly increased, for cancer and control groups, with no significant differences between the two groups. Subset analysis of NWL cancer vs. WL cancer found no difference between WL and NWL for the change in PHE balance from PA and INS, however GU increased significantly only for the NWL group between PA and INS. These data indicate that cancer patients are not resistant to the anabolic effect of INS on protein metabolism, regardless of weight loss, but are resistant to the effect of INS on glucose metabolism when further along in the disease process as evident by more significant weight loss. This differential response to the effect of INS can be exploited in an attempt to promote protein accrual in weight-losing cancer patients. © 1992.