Metformin, generic name glucophage, is a drug approved as first-line treatment of type 2 diabetes. It is helpful in improving blood sugar control in both diabetics and pre-diabetics. However, as is the case with many drugs, other uses have been discovered as a result of ambitious researchers. Metformin is a well-known example of a drug which can be used off-label to fight cancer.
Metformin and Cancer Risk
Metformin’s possible action against cancer came as an incidental finding. Studies revealed that diabetics who took Metformin were found to have a 54% lower risk of developing cancer compared to diabetics not taking Metformin. This prompted additional research on Metformin, and the studies have been nothing short of amazing.
Metformin as an Anti-Cancer Agent
There are several mechanisms for Metformin’s anti-cancer effect, the most prominent of which is its inhibition of what is known as the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) pathway. We know that the mTOR pathway is a major player in cancer cell growth, spread, and survival. If we can disrupt the mTOR pathway, we stand a much greater chance of slowing down cancer.
In addition, Metformin targets cancer by reducing the available insulin and insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), both of which are heavily utilized by cancer cells. Finally, Metformin has been shown in multiple studies to kill cancer stem cells (CSCs), which can be thought of as a subset of circulating tumor cells (CTCs). Addressing cancer stem cells in the blood is a critical tool for reducing the chances of metastases in the future, as CSCs are the main driver of cancer’s immortality and subsequent spread.
Metformin’s Safety Profile
Metformin is a very safe medication. Because it works with the body’s physiology, rather than apart from it, the chances of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) are extremely rare. Nonetheless, it is a prescription and should be monitored by a cancer physician who is familiar with its use in this setting. When used properly, we have found it to be an invaluable tool which can be used in almost all cancer treatment protocols.