A new study has found that a commonly prescribed anti-diabetic drug can reduce an individual's risk of developing pancreatic cancer by 62 percent.
The research from The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center has been published in the Aug. 1 issue of Gastroenterology.
"This is the first epidemiological study of metformin in the cancer population, and it offers an exciting direction for future chemoprevention research for a disease greatly in need of both treatment and prevention strategies," said Donghui Li, Ph.D., professor in M. D. Anderson's Department of Gastrointestinal Medical Oncology.
"Metformin works by increasing the cellular sensitivity to insulin and decreasing its level circulating in diabetics. Insulin also seems to have a growth-promoting effect in cancer," said Li, the study's senior author.
"Metformin activates the AMP kinase, which is a cellular engery sensor. Recent publications have described that AMP kinase also plays an important role in the development of cancer by controlling cell division and growth," the expert added.
Li also cited a previous animal study showing that metformin prevented pancreatic tumor development, as well as numerous epidemiologic studies in the diabetic population that showed taking the drug reduced the risk for cancer overall.
"Given these earlier findings, and knowing that diabetes is a risk factor for the development of pancreatic cancer and that 10 percent of such cancers are associated with diabetes, we wanted to better understand the specific association between different anti-diabetic therapies and this lethal disease," explained Li.
For the case control study, the researchers enrolled 1,838 participants - 973 patients with pancreatic adenocarcinoma treated at M. D. Anderson between 2004 and 2008 to compare 863 cancer-free individuals, all companions of M. D. Anderson patients.