News FocusCancer Research

Cancer Prevention With a Diabetes Pill?

Science  06 Jan 2012:
Vol. 335, Issue 6064, pp. 29
DOI: 10.1126/science.335.6064.29

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Summary

Diabetics treated with an insulin-lowering drug known as metformin have from 25% to 40% less cancer than those who receive insulin as therapy or take sulfonylurea drugs that increase insulin secretion from the pancreas. The idea that reducing insulin and insulin-like hormones in circulation may prevent tumors has become a bright hope for drug research, and a host of insulin-suppressing drugs are in the pharmaceutical industry pipeline. There is a caveat to the observational research linking metformin use to a decrease in cancer incidence, however: Studies of this kind are incapable of establishing a causal relationship. Maybe metformin prevents cancer in type 2 diabetics. Maybe insulin and the sulfonylurea drugs given instead of metformin promote cancer risk. Maybe something else entirely is going on.