Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Font Size

Common Diabetes Drug May Fight Cancer

Metformin Shows Preliminary Promise Against Prostate, Pancreatic Tumors
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

April 3, 2012 (Chicago) -- The diabetes drug metformin -- commonly a first choice for controlling blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes -- is sparking new interest as a cancer fighter.

A new study presented here at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) annual meeting shows that metformin (Fortamet, Glucophage, Glumetza, Riomet) may put the brakes on the growth of tumor cells in men with prostate cancer. Another study released in one of the association's journals suggests that it may extend the lives of people with pancreatic cancer.

But experts caution that the work is still preliminary and more study is needed before metformin can be recommended as a cancer treatment.

"These are still the early days," says Jose Baselga, MD, PhD, chief of hematology/oncology at Massachusetts General Hospital. "But there are strong signals of an anti-cancer effect."

Metformin vs. Prostate Cancer

One new study involved 22 men with prostate cancer. They took metformin pills three times a day from the time they got their diagnosis to when they had their prostates removed, an average period of 41 days.

Researchers compared tissue from biopsies taken at diagnosis to tissue removed at the time of surgery and found that metformin slowed the growth of tumor cells by 32%.

Levels of insulin-like proteins in the blood also dropped.

Still unknown is whether men who take metformin are more likely to beat prostate cancer, says researcher Anthony M. Joshua, MBBS, PhD, a staff medical oncologist at Princess Margaret Hospital/University Health Network in Toronto.

But a growing body of evidence -- from lab, animal, and human studies -- suggests metformin mounts a multi-pronged attack against cancer, he tells WebMD. It lowers levels of insulin in the blood, and insulin contributes to the growth of cancer cells, Joshua says.

Metformin also shuts down the so-called mTOR pathway, which "is the cellular motor that makes cancer cells grow," he says. And it may slow down the metabolism of cancer cells, causing them to die off, Joshua says.

None of the men in the study had diabetes, so it is conceivable that men with diabetes and men without the condition both may benefit from metformin's cancer-fighting effects, he says.

None of the men experienced serious side effects from the drug in the study. Diarrhea, nausea, and gas are common side effects associated with its use in diabetes.

Today on WebMD

man with doctor
Symptoms, risks, treatments
man coughing
Men shouldn’t ignore
prostate cancer cells
What does this diagnosis mean?
doctor and male patient
Is it worth it?
cancer fighting foods
15 Cancer Symptoms Men Ignore
Prostate Enlarged
Picture Of The Prostate
Prostate Cancer Quiz
screening tests for men
Prostate Cancer Symptoms
Vitamin D