A popular diabetes drug has been proven to reduce breast cancer risk in women, researchers say. According to a report published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, metformin, a drug commonly prescribed to treat type 2 diabetes, can lower breast cancer risk in post-menopausal women. Such findings suggest that metformin may have curative properties that extend beyond diabetes treatment.
Rowan T. Chlebowski from UCLA's Biomedical Research Institute led a research team which sought to investigate associations between diabetes, metformin use and breast cancer in postmenopausal women. The researchers based their assessment on data obtained from 68,019 postmenopausal participants in the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) study.
During the course of 11.8 years, 11,290 women were diagnosed with diabetes, 3273 with invasive breast cancer and 754 with ductal carcinoma in situ. Although there was no overall difference in invasive breast cancer incidence between all women with diabetes and women without the disorder, researchers saw different results when they specifically compared with diabetes to those without diabetes.
Results of that comparison revealed metformin lowered breast cancer incidence in women who took the medication compared to those who did not. Medication type had a significant impact on the outcome.
Participants who took medications other than metformin to control their diabetes didn't fare so well. In fact, breast cancer incidence was slightly higher (italics) in those women. It's also important to note, that incidence of ductal carcinoma in situ wasn't associated with metformin use.
While the precise mechanisms by which metformin inhibits breast cancer aren't understood, Chlebowski and his colleagues cited other research which proposes the drug could affect biological pathways involved in development of the disease.
Their's is not the first study to show an association between metformin and lower breast cancer risk. In 2009, Harvard Medical School researcher Heather Hirsch and her colleagues reported that metformin selectively kills cancerous stem cells in different types of breast cancer.
Stem cells have the ability to differentiate i.e. develop into a variety of different cell types; in adults, stem cells replace worn out cells, thus making them crucial to survival. Unfortunately some stem cells become defective, transforming into rapidly dividing cells that, if left unchecked, become deadly.
Using mouse models, Hirsch and her colleagues demonstrated that metformin in combination with chemotherapeutic drugs could be helpful for treatment of breast cancer. Now, Chlebowski's research team has proven that metformin can effectively lower breast cancer risk in postmenopausal women.
The results of the WHI study add to a mounting body of evidence showing an association between metformin and reduction of breast cancer. If future research substantiates such findings it could lead to the development of new treatments for breast and other types of cancers which would potentially save millions of lives.
Based on the findings of their own research, Chlebowski and his colleagues concluded that metformin can effectively lower breast cancer incidence in postmenopausal women saying: "Our findings are of most direct relevance to women with diabetes, most of whom were overweight or obese. However the consideration of the totality of available evidence does provide support for the ongoing clinical studies of metformin, including a prospective, full-scale, multicenter adjuvant trial and proof of principal studies in prevention settings."
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Chlebowski RT, McTiernan A, Wactawski-Wende J, Manson JE, Aragaki AK, Rohan T, Ipp E, Kaklamani VG, Vitolins M, Wallace R, Gunter M, Phillips LS, Strickler H, Margolis K, & Euhus DM (2012). Diabetes, Metformin, and Breast Cancer in Postmenopausal Women. Journal of clinical oncology : official journal of the American Society of Clinical Oncology PMID: 22689798
Hirsch HA, Iliopoulos D, Tsichlis PN, & Struhl K (2009). Metformin selectively targets cancer stem cells, and acts together with chemotherapy to block tumor growth and prolong remission. Cancer research, 69 (19), 7507-11 PMID: 19752085
"Metformin Lowers Breast Cancer Risk, Study" copyright 2012 Living Fit, Healthy and Happy(SM). All Rights Reserved.