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Common Diabetic Therapy Reduces Risk of Pancreatic Cancer

Common Diabetic Therapy Reduces Risk of Pancreatic Cancer

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(Ivanhoe Newswire) -- Taking the most commonly-prescribed anti-diabetic drug, metformin, reduces the risk of developing pancreatic cancer by 62 percent, according to research from The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center.

"This is the first epidemiological study of metformin in the cancer population, and it offers an exciting direction for future chemoprevention research for a disease greatly in need of both treatment and prevention strategies," Donghui Li, Ph.D., lead author and professor in M. D. Anderson's Department of Gastrointestinal Medical Oncology was quoted as saying.

 

According to Li, more than 35 million prescriptions for metformin, which is taken orally, are filled annually. It is most often given to type 2 diabetic patients who are obese or who have insulin resistance.

"Metformin works by increasing the cellular sensitivity to insulin and decreasing its level circulating in diabetics. Insulin also seems to have a growth-promoting effect in cancer," said Li. "Metformin activates the AMP kinase, which is a cellular energy sensor. Recent publications have described that AMP kinase also plays an important role in the development of cancer by controlling cell division and growth."

"Knowing that diabetes is a risk factor for the development of pancreatic cancer and that 10 percent of such cancers are associated with diabetes, we wanted to better understand the specific association between different anti-diabetic therapies and this lethal disease," explained Li.

For the case control study, the researchers enrolled 1,838 participants -- 973 patients with pancreatic cancer treated at M. D. Anderson between 2004 and 2008 -- to compare with 863 cancer-free individuals, all companions of M. D. Anderson patients. Of all participants, 259 patients and 109 controls were diabetics.

The groups were matched by age, race and sex. Personal interviews were conducted to collect such information as smoking history, family history of cancer, alcohol use and body mass index. Diabetics were also asked about their anti-diabetic medication history.

The researchers found that diabetics who took metformin alone or in any combination with other diabetic therapies had a 62 percent reduced risk of developing pancreatic cancer, compared to those who never used the drug. 

Li noted the study is not without limitations, including the relatively small size of the study's diabetic population. She hopes the research will be replicated using a larger sample size. Still, the findings present the immediate opportunity to explore metformin as a chemopreventive agent.

Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer death in this country. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 42,470 people will be diagnosed and 35,240 will likely die from the disease in 2009. The median survival for patients with the disease is less than 10 months and the five-year survival rate is less than five percent.

"While further validation is needed, our findings show metformin's potential as a chemopreventive agent," said Li. "Currently, once pancreatic cancer is diagnosed, we have few successful therapeutic agents to offer our patients, so obviously, for those at greatest risk, a preventive mechanism such as metformin would be a welcome option."

In a corresponding editorial, Yu-Xiao Yang, M.D. of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine noted that the American Diabetes Association and the European Association for the Study of Diabetes have both recommended the inclusion of metformin for all type 2 diabetes patients without contraindications and notes that the possible chemopreventive properties of the drug "may provide an additional incentive for patients and physicians to follow this recommendation."

SOURCE: Gastroenterology, August 1, 2009

If this story or any other Ivanhoe story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Melissa Medalie at mmedalie@ivanhoe.com

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