Newswise — PHILADELPHIA — Patients with diabetes and pancreatic cancer who are prescribed metformin may have improved survival compared with those not prescribed the commonly used diabetic agent, according to a study published in Clinical Cancer Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

Although the causes of pancreatic cancer remain largely unknown, patients with pancreatic cancer often have a high prevalence of diabetes and impaired glucose tolerance.

“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., a professor at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

In a retrospective study, Li and colleagues observed 302 patients with diabetes and pancreatic cancer; of which 117 were prescribed metformin.

At one year, the researchers found that 63.9 percent of the patients prescribed metformin were still alive, while 46.3 percent of the group not prescribed metformin survived.

By two years, 30.1 percent of the metformin group remained alive compared with 15.4 percent of the non-metformin group. Median survival was 15.2 months for patients prescribed metformin and 11.1 months for patients not prescribed metformin. Those prescribed metformin had a 32 percent reduced risk for death.

This protective effect was evident at all disease stages, with the exception of metastatic disease where metformin appeared to have no measurable effect.

Li suggested that metformin was acting on the insulin resistance observed in both diabetes and pancreatic cancer, as well as on the AMPK/AKT/mTOR signaling pathway and said a randomized clinical trial is warranted.

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