Diabetes drug may treat cancer

Metformin, used to treat diabetes, just may also beat down cancer cells through a multi-pronged defense, and for much less money than current gold standard treatments ($30 to $50 a month to the patient.) The findings  (reported by the American Association for Cancer Research) which looked at breast, prostate and pancreatic cancers require further investigation. But this is what they show to date:


How does metformin work against cancer?

First, metformin decreases insulin, associated with speeding growth of cancer cells. The drug activates the AMP kinase sensor. Put simply, activation of this sensor sets off a molecular reaction that  controls cell division and growth. And preliminary studies show metformin affects the mTOR pathway; mTOR is a protein that promotes cancer growth.


One landmark study focused on men with prostate cancer.

Trial participants who took metformin daily from the time of diagnosis through prostate removal had a 32 percent reduction in tumor growth in that time frame. Their blood levels of insulin dropped significantly. And metformin shut down the mTOR pathway.

Additionally, metformin appears to slow the metabolism of cancer cells, causing them to die off. Further research is needed to determine if “cure” rates will correlate with these promising results.


An interesting study in patients with pancreatic cancer.

There is a correlation between diabetes and risk for pancreatic cancer (10% of such cancers are associated with diabetes). Twice as many trial participants with pancreatic cancer and diabetes on metformin were alive two years after diagnosis than those who did not take the drug (30% vs 15%). Overall survival increased by four months.


Metformin appears to treat breast cancer too.

Researchers at MD Anderson (Houston, TX) identified 2,529 breast cancer survivors who received chemotherapy before surgery. They included diabetics on metformin, diabetics who didn’t take metformin, and nondiabetics.

On completion of chemotherapy, 24 percent of diabetics taking metformin were free of breast cancer, versus 8 percent of diabetics not taking metformin. But the drug may benefit nondiabietic breast cancer patients too: 16% of women in this group on metformin were cancer free after chemo (keep in mind this number reflects results BEFORE surgery; surgery is more ammo to boost outcomes).


What next?

MD Anderson plans to open a clinical trial with metformin in combination with hormonal therapy for obese metastatic breast cancer patients.

And researchers are working to determine whether metformin’s cancer-fighting benefits are exclusively tied to its ability to lower insulin­—or whether the drug actually works directly to destroy cancer cells.

Brand names for metformin are Glucophage, Glucophage XR, Glumetza, Fortamet, and Riomet.


More information:

Metformin and prostate and pancreatic cancers


Metformin and breast cancer


Clinical trials on metformin for cancer


4 Responses to “Diabetes drug may treat cancer”
  1. Tami Boehmer says:

    Very interesting, Rachel. I just shared a CNN article about it on Facebook. Thanks for all your hard work researching this!

  2. elyn jacobs says:

    Great post Rachel….Over the past few months, at various conferences, I have heard countless docs rave about the benefits of Metformin for cancer patients and also for those at high risk. While certainly not for everyone and like all drugs, has issues, seems to be a great addition to the anti-cancer strategy.

  3. Ant says:

    A great post. My mother works in a hospice so I’ve seen/heard plenty about cancer first hand and know how life changing it can be. I also have several friends who suffer from diabetes so to hear of a pill that may work to combat both is wonderful news. Thank you for sharing!

  4. Naresh Chandra says:

    thanks sir
    information related to metformin act as a cancer treatement. becoz i”m also work in metformin nanoparticle at National Institute of Pharmaceutical Education & Research (NIPER), S.A.S. Nagar, punjab, INDIA.

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