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Diabetes Drugs May Slow Lung Cancer

Study Shows Metformin and Other Diabetes Drugs May Lower Risk of the Spread of Lung Cancer
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Nov. 2, 2010 -- Certain diabetes medications, including metformin, may slow the progression of lung cancer and lengthen survival, according to a new study.

''When they presented with the cancer, those [patients] who took one of these drugs were much less likely to have metastatic disease," says researcher Peter J. Mazzone, MD, MPH, lung cancer program director of the Respiratory Institute at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. 

He is presenting his findings this week at CHEST 2010, the annual meeting of the American College of Chest Physicians, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

The new findings echo those of other recent research, Mazzone tells WebMD, including an animal study done by National Cancer Institute researchers and other research linking metformin with lower cancer rates in general.

Metformin and TZDs for Lung Cancer

For the new study, Mazzone and his colleagues are evaluating the records of more than 600 people with diabetes and lung cancer, he tells WebMD. He reported on 225 of the 600 at the CHEST 2010 meeting.

''We matched them to diabetics who did not have lung cancer," Mazzone tells WebMD.

They evaluated what happened in people with lung cancer if they were exposed to metformin or diabetes drugs known as thiazolidedione (TZDs) before the lung cancer diagnosis.

Overall, people on the drugs were less likely to get lung cancer, and people with lung cancer were less likely to have it spread and to have longer survival if they were on one of the diabetes drugs before their diagnosis.

"When they presented with the cancer, those who took one of the drugs were much less likely to have metastatic disease," Mazzone says.

In people on metformin alone, TZD alone, or both, 25% of the lung cancer patients had metastases, while 48% of those on neither drug did, Mazzone tells WebMD.

"People who take the drugs seem to develop lung cancer less often," Mazzone says. "Ninety-six percent of people who didn't get cancer were taking one of the drugs and 41% of those who did get cancer were."

The drugs may also lengthen survival, Mazzone found.

Why the diabetes drugs seem to make lung cancers less likely and, when it occurs, less likely to spread, isn't known for sure, Mazzone says.

"There are several pathways these drugs work through that are [also] known to slow the growth of cancer cells, and to affect the pathways known to lead to cancer growth," Mazzone says.

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