Metformin and cancer risk in diabetic patients: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Cancer Prev Res (Phila). 2010 Nov;3(11):1451-61. doi: 10.1158/1940-6207.CAPR-10-0157. Epub 2010 Oct 12.


Metformin, an insulin-lowering agent, has been associated with decreased cancer risk in epidemiologic studies in diabetic patients. We performed a comprehensive literature search and meta-analysis of epidemiologic studies to assess the effect of metformin on cancer incidence and mortality in diabetic patients, using Pubmed, ISI Web of Science, Embase, and the Cochrane library until May 2009, with no language or time restrictions. Independent reports with sufficient information to allow risk estimation of cancer risk/mortality and a measure of uncertainty were reviewed and cross-checked independently by three investigators. Eleven studies were selected for relevance in terms of intervention, population studied, independence, and reporting of cancer incidence or mortality data, reporting 4,042 cancer events and 529 cancer deaths. A 31% reduction in overall summary relative risk (0.69; 95% confidence interval, 0.61-0.79) was found in subjects taking metformin compared with other antidiabetic drugs. The inverse association was significant for pancreatic and hepatocellular cancer, and nonsignificant for colon, breast, and prostate cancer. A trend to a dose-response relationship was noted. Metformin is associated with a decreased risk of cancer incidence compared with other treatments among diabetic patients. Given the retrospective nature of most studies and the possibility that the control treatments increase risk, phase II trials are needed before large cancer prevention trials are launched.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / drug therapy*
  • Humans
  • Hypoglycemic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Incidence
  • Metformin / therapeutic use*
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Risk


  • Hypoglycemic Agents
  • Metformin