Diabetes Drug Linked to Improved Ovarian Cancer Survival

The diabetes drug metformin may have a future role in the treatment of ovarian cancer. Researchers from the Mayo Clinic studied the records of 239 women who had ovarian cancer, comparing those who had taken metformin with those who had not. They found that 67% of those who took the drug had not died from ovarian cancer within 5 years, compared to 47% of those who didn’t take the drug. The study was published online December 3, 2012 in the journal Cancer.

Even after adjusting for stage, treatments received, and the subtype of ovarian cancer, the data showed that ovarian cancer patients taking metformin had more than double the survival than those who were not taking it. Still, researchers need to do a lot more study before they can say for sure that metformin is safe and effective for this use. It is not currently available as an ovarian cancer treatment. All the women in the study who took the drug were taking it to treat their diabetes.

Metformin can lower blood sugar, and have side effects that include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and other digestive problems; generalized weakness and headaches. In very rare cases, it can cause a serious condition called lactic acidosis, caused by a buildup of lactic acid in the blood.

Ovarian cancer is often detected at an advanced stage when it’s harder to treat, so better treatment options are greatly needed. The researchers say their study opens the door for using metformin in large-scale randomized trials. They say it’s important to explore new uses for existing drugs because developing new drugs is expensive and time consuming.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Metformin Intake Is Associated With Better Survival in Ovarian Cancer. Published online December 3, 2012 in Cancer. First author: Sanjeev Kumar, MBBS, Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, Rochester, Minn.

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