Is it time to test metformin in breast cancer clinical trials?

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Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2009 Mar;18(3):701-5. Epub 2009 Feb 24.

Is it time to test metformin in breast cancer clinical trials?

Cazzaniga M, Bonanni B, Guerrieri-Gonzaga A, Decensi A.

Division of Cancer Prevention and Genetics, European Institute of Oncology, Via Ripamonti 435, 20141, Milan, Italy.

Comment in:


Several studies have identified an increased risk of cancer in type 2 diabetic patients and this is in accordance with the hypothesis that increased insulin levels might promote cancer. Thus, there is a great interest in exploring the possibility that antidiabetic therapies lowering insulin levels could decrease cancer incidence or cancer-related mortality. Recent observational studies have shown that metformin, an oral safe and well-tolerated insulin-sensitizer antidiabetic drug, has been associated with reduced cancer risk. Recently, several preclinical studies have evaluated the effect of metformin in vivo on nude mice and showed a significant reduction of both breast epithelial cell proliferation and protein synthesis. Further investigations in the clinical setting are well-supported by the promising results obtained thus far. At the European Institute of Oncology, the Division of Cancer Prevention and Genetics is planning to conduct a clinical trial to evaluate the activity of metformin on tumor cell proliferation in breast cancer patients undergoing surgery. It will be a presurgical randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled phase II biomarker trial: 100 histologically confirmed breast cancer patients will be randomly assigned to metformin (850 mg twice/daily) or placebo for 28+7 days till surgery to assess drug activity on tumor proliferation, as measured by Ki-67. The confirmation of the efficacy of metformin on cancer cell proliferation may lead the way to larger chemoprevention clinical trials.