Metformin found to positively affect cancer risk for diabetic post-menopausal women

by Barbara Hewitt on April 19, 2016

There has been a lot of research recently about diabetes drugs and their links to cancer but now there is some good news for post-menopausal diabetic women who take metformin.

A new study has found that those who use the drug long term for the treatment of their diabetes may be at lower risk of developing and dying from certain cancers.

A large prospective study from researchers at Roswell Park Cancer Institute (RPCI) and the University at Buffalo analysed data from the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI), a series of large studies undertaken to address common health issues in women.


The researchers also found that women with diabetes, compared to women without the disease, were more likely to develop cancer. But they also found a trend of decreasing risk of cancer death with increasing duration of metformin.

The researchers, led by Zhihong Gong, an assistant professor of oncology in the Department of Cancer Prevention and Control at Roswell Park, and Jean Wactawski-Wende, one of the principal investigators of the Women’s Health Initiative and Dean of the School of Public Health and Health Professions at the University at Buffalo, say that more research is needed.

Overall they looked at information from 145,826 post-menopausal women between 50 and 79 years of age from 40 clinical centres who participated in the WHI between 1993 and 1998.

They found that women with diabetes had a 45% greater risk of death from invasive cancer overall when compared to women without diabetes. In addition, among women with diabetes, the risk of cancer death differed significantly between metformin users and nonusers.

Compared to women without diabetes, women with diabetes had a 13% higher risk of developing invasive cancer. These women also face increased risk that ranges from 20% to nearly double the chances of being diagnosed with certain such as colon, liver, pancreas, endometrial and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Results also showed that metformin use was associated with better survival in diabetes patients diagnosed with ovarian, colorectal and breast cancer.

“In this large prospective study with long-term follow-up, we examined the association of diabetes and medications to treat the disease with the risk of cancer and cancer mortality overall and by cancer site,” said Gong.

“Our findings suggest that diabetes remains a risk factor for cancer overall and increases the risk of certain cancers. But we also found a lower cancer risk for certain cancers among those patients who have used metformin for many years,” Gong added.

Wactawski-Wende explained that the Women’s Health Initiative continues to offer thoughtful, meaningful data to researchers seeking to answer health care questions that impact the understanding of long term health in older women.


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