Living Longer With Diabetes and Cancer

Pancreatic cancer patients with diabetes may live longer with metformin

April 5, 2012 / Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

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(dailyRx News) About 80 percent of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer also have diabetes. While it's known that the two diseases are linked, the exact nature of this association remains unclear.

What is clear is that a diabetes medication may help folks living with pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatic cancer patients with diabetes who are prescribed metformin may live longer than those who are not given the common diabetes medication.

"Tell your doctor if pancreatic cancer is in your family."

Donghui Li, Ph.D., a professor at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, led a team of researchers evaluating the effect metformin had on the lifespan of pancreatic cancer patients with diabetes.

“This study suggests that metformin use in patients with diabetes was associated with improved pancreatic cancer survival, so we should certainly begin study of its supplemental use in pancreatic cancer treatment,” said Donghui Li, Ph.D. 

Looking at existing data, Li and colleagues conducted a retrospective study, observing 302 patients who had both diseases, including 117 who were prescribed metformin.

After one year, 63.9 percent of the people taking metformin were alive, compared with 46.3 percent of patients who were not given the medication.

At two years, 30.1 percent of the treated individuals were alive, compared with 15.4 percent who weren't prescribed the diabetes drug.

In looking at the lives of all individuals participating in the study, the median (in the middle) lifespan was 15.2 months for those who took metformin and 11.1 months for those who didn't take the drug. 

These benefits were seen in all stages of pancreatic cancer, with the exception of metastatic disease that had spread to other sites in the body.

Metformin was likely battling insulin resistance that's common in both diseases, according to Li, who says these results warrant a randomized clinical trial to confirm these findings.

Metformin is marketed under the following brand names: Fortamet, Glucophage, Glumetza and Riomet.

This study was  published in Clinical Cancer Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research. 

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Review Date: 
April 5, 2012
Last Updated:
April 6, 2012