MONDAY, Dec. 3 (HealthDay News) -- Ovarian cancer may join a
growing list of malignancies that seem to be slowed by a commonly
prescribed diabetes drug.
Ovarian cancer patients who were taking metformin at the time of
their diagnosis survived longer than patients who weren't on the
drug, a new study by Mayo Clinic researchers shows.
Metformin goes by the brand name Glucophage and is derived from
French lilacs. It's typically prescribed to lower blood sugar
levels in people with type 2 diabetes but has shown promise as a
potential anticancer agent in recent prostate, colon, pancreas,
brain and breast cancer studies, as well as in lab experiments with
ovarian cancer cells.
The new research, published online Dec. 3 in the journal
Cancer, was a retrospective study where the scientists
evaluated the medical records of ovarian cancer patients who had
received their cancer diagnosis between 1995 and 2010. Sixty-one
patients were taking metformin at the time of their cancer
diagnosis while 178 patients -- the control group -- weren't on the
The scientists reported that 67 percent of the women using
metformin had not died within five years of their diagnosis, while
only 47 percent of the control group had survived that long.
Overall, patients taking metformin were 3.7 times more likely to
survive throughout the study than those who did not take it, the
"Our study demonstrated improved survival in women with ovarian cancer that were taking metformin," said Dr. Sanjeev Kumar, a Mayo Clinic gynecologic oncology fellow, who also noted that the scientists took into account each patient's body mass index, cancer severity, type of chemotherapy they were taking and surgery quality.
Dr. Pamela Soliman, an associate professor in the department of
gynecologic oncology at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson
Cancer Center in Houston, said, "Even after controlling for all of
those factors, there still showed a benefit for metformin."
Soliman was not involved with the study, but has conducted
similar research in endometrial cancer cells. "This is good first
evidence that maybe metformin will have a benefit to patients with
ovarian cancer," she said. "There's information to gain, but I
think more studies need to be done."
Scientists are still trying to better understand why metformin
improves cancer outcomes. Kumar and colleagues said in the lab they
have shown that if you feed ovarian cancer cells metformin, they
stop dividing. In patients with diabetes, it lowers blood sugar
levels and increases insulin sensitivity, two factors associated
with cancer growth. Still, more research is needed to understand
the biological mechanism at play, Kumar said.
According to the American Cancer Society, about 22,280 women are
newly diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year, and about 15,500 die
from the disease annually.
Many patients may wonder if the drug could help curb their
cancer, Kumar said, but he advised that it's too early for doctors
to start prescribing metformin as an ovarian cancer treatment.
"We don't have sufficient evidence that patients with ovarian cancer should be on metformin. This is a study that forms a hypothesis, but patients should wait until large-scale randomized trials are conducted," Kumar said.
Study co-author Dr. William Cliby, a professor of obstetrics and
gynecology at the Mayo Clinic, said if a cancer patient develops
prediabetes or diabetes after diagnosis, using metformin is an
option, though. "If you have patients who are borderline diabetic
and they could use a diabetic agent, in that case, this study
indicates there might be a benefit."
For more on ovarian cancer, go to the
American Cancer Society.
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