Metformin, which is used to treat type 2 diabetes, could improve the survival of some people with breast cancer, research has found.
The study was conducted by the Perelman School of Medicine, based at the University of Pennsylvania, and was presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting.
More than 1,200 women were examined, all of whom were diagnosed and underwent surgical treatment for breast cancer between 1997 and 2013.
Women taking metformin before diagnosis were found to be more likely to die than people who did not take it, but those who began to take the drug after diagnosis were almost 50 per cent more likely to survive, the study concluded.
Dr Yun Rose Li, who led the research, said: “Using metformin as a cancer prevention strategy has been controversial and results have been inconsistent, but our analysis reveals that use of the drug is time-dependent, which may explain the disparity.
“While use of the drug may have a survival benefit for some breast cancer patients, those who developed breast cancer while already using metformin may have more aggressive cancer subtypes.
“Our study also illustrates the complex interaction between underlying metabolic risks and breast cancer outcomes, and underscore the importance of a multi-system approach to cancer treatment.”
A second-related study also demonstrated that metformin could be effective as a treatment for women diagnosed with endometrial hyperplasia, a thickening of the lining of the womb caused by overgrowth of the cells that line the organ.
Dr Emily Ko, lead author of the study, which was also published this week, added: “The results of our study may present an alternative treatment for particular forms of endometrial hyperplasia, in contrast to standard progesterone-based therapies or hysterectomy.
“Future prospective studies may better identify women for which metformin may be most beneficial, as well as the most effective dosing regimens.”

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