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Common Diabetes Drug May Fight Cancer

Metformin Shows Preliminary Promise Against Prostate, Pancreatic Tumors

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"It's very early and the study is small," says Nancy Dawson, MD, a prostate cancer specialist at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center. "But's it’s fascinating to see such a slowing of cancer cell growth in such a short period of time."

Phillip Dennis, MD, PhD, of the National Cancer Institute, says, "The data suggest that if metformin is working, it is [attacking cancer cells in ways] that have not been identified. People should not start taking metformin for prostate cancer," he tells WebMD.

There will be about 240,000 new cases of prostate cancer in 2012, according to the American Cancer Society. About 13 million, or 11.8% of all men aged 20 years or older, have diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association.

Metformin vs. Pancreatic Cancer

Researchers at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston examined the records of 302 people with pancreatic cancer and diabetes; 117 were taking metformin.

Results showed that 30% of those taking metformin were alive at two years vs. 15% of those who weren’t taking the diabetes drug.

Also, people on metformin lived an average of 15 months vs. 11 months for those who didn't take the drug.

The study doesn't prove that metformin made the difference. People who took the drug might have other advantages that weren't measured.

More study of metformin in these and other cancers is planned. If it does pan out, one plus could be price. While new cancer drugs can cost thousands of dollars a dose, a month's supply of metformin is typically $30 to $50.

These findings were presented at a medical conference. They should be considered preliminary, as they have not yet undergone the "peer review" process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.

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