A new study suggests that the widely prescribed type 2 diabetes metformin may have the potential to improve the treatment of lung cancer.
The study, published in the British Journal of Cancer, found that metformin stunts the growth of lung cancer cells and makes them more vulnerable to radiotherapy – radiation treatment used to destroy cancerous cells in the body.
According to scientists from McMaster University in Canada, lung cancer cells usually adapt to radiotherapy by switching on survival (or defence) mechanisms that not only makes them resistant to the treatment but also accelerates their growth.
However, after studying lung cancer cells grown in laboratory settings and in mice, the researchers discovered that metformin improves the cells’ sensitivity to radiotherapy, thus making it a more potent treatment .
They reported that the oral anti-diabetic medication appears to over-ride the cells’ survival mechanisms by improving the damage-detecting signals sent within cancer cells in response to radiotherapy .
These signals prevent cancerous cells from producing the new proteins they need to grow rapidly, stops them from making new cells and ultimately causes them to die.
“Our study shows that the diabetes drug metformin can stop lung cancer cells from growing and makes them more sensitive to treatment by radiotherapy,” study author Dr Theodoros Tsakiridis, of the Juravinski Cancer Centre and McMaster University, said.
“We’re now working with other institutions to develop a clinical trial that will investigate metformin in lung cancer patients treated with radiotherapy . If we can prove that this works in patients then we could have a potentially powerful weapon in the fight against the disease.”

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