Metformin, the most widely used diabetes drug, could help improve the health of diabetic patients with severe late-stage lung cancer, according to a new study.
Researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania found that treating aggressive lung cancer with metformin along with radiation and chemotherapy may slow tumour growth and recurrence.
The preliminary findings, which will be presented next week at the 15th World Conference on Lung Cancer, are based on clinical evidence from 16 diabetes patients with stage III A and B non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) treated at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania between June 2008 and June 2013.
The evidence demonstrated that combined chemotherapy and radiation (chemoradiation) therapy – a treatment option for Stage III lung cancers – together with metformin significantly improved local recurrence and survival benefit in the patients.
According to the researchers, this suggests that metformin is an effective radiosensitizer — a drug that makes tumour cells more sensitive to radiotherapy — for treatment of NSCLC.
Ildiko Csiki, an assistant professor of radiation oncology at Penn’s Abramson cancer Center, said: “Our clinical experience demonstrates patients receiving definitive chemoradiation for stage III NSCLC who took metformin for diabetes had improved local control and overall survival compared with our patients not taking metformin and compared with historical controls.”
The Penn researchers said early data from preclinical studies with a mouse model of lung cancer treated with chemoradiation and metformin also support the use of the type 2 diabetes drug as a radiosensitizing agent.
They concluded: “Such findings, along with our clinical retrospective data, will lead to institutional prospective clinical trials, for the first-time, using metformin as a radiosensitizing agent in combination with radiation therapy and chemotherapy in the treatment of lung and potentially other cancers.”
These latest findings add to the growing list of metformin’s potential anti-cancer effects, and support previous research published earlier this year in the British Journal of Cancer, which showed the medication can stunt the growth of lung cancer cells in mice and make them more sensitive to treatment by radiotherapy.

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