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Diabetes Drug Metformin May Fight Cancer

More Study Needed, Researchers Say

The researchers say the findings illustrate the need for clinical trials to determine if the diabetes drug really does have a place in the treatment of ovarian cancer.

Until these trials are done, metformin is not likely to be included in the drugs now used by patients with the disease, even though it has been used by tens of millions of people and has a long safety record.

Common side effects include problems such as diarrhea, bloating, gas, and indigestion.

While these complaints are not often serious, Brawley points out that they mimic symptoms commonly associated with ovarian cancer relapse.

“I could easily see a woman having a lot of unnecessary anxiety because she thinks her cancer is back, or her doctor being fooled into ordering a lot of unnecessary diagnostic tests,” he says.

Insulin May Promote Cancer Growth

If metformin really does fight cancer, it may do so by lowering circulating insulin levels in the blood.

Brawley says circulating insulin is believed to promote the growth of certain types of cancer, including breast cancer.

The breast cancer research and advocacy group Susan G. Komen for the Cure has spent $10 million on studies investigating metformin.

Chandini Portteus, who is vice president of research, evaluation, and scientific programs for the organization, says the group is sponsoring four separate clinical trials involving the drug.

“It is exciting to be involved in this research,” she says. “We know this drug has few side effects and is cost effective, which is not always the case with cancer therapies.”

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