Metformin: its emerging role in oncology

Hormones (Athens). 2011 Jan-Mar;10(1):5-15. doi: 10.14310/horm.2002.1288.


Metformin is considered, in conjunction with lifestyle modification, as a first-line treatment modality for type 2 diabetes mellitus (DM). Recently, several clinical studies have reported reduced incidence of neoplastic diseases in DM type 2 patients treated with metformin, as compared to diet or other antidiabetic agents. Moreover, in vitro studies have disclosed significant antiproliferative and proapoptotic effects of metformin on different types of cancer. Metformin acts by activating AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK), a key player in the regulation of energy homeostasis. Moreover, by activating AMPK, metformin inhibits the mammalian target of rapamycin complex 1 (mTORC1) resulting in decreased cancer cell proliferation. Concomitantly, metformin induces activation of LKB1 (serine/threonine kinase 11), a tumor suppressor gene, which is required for the phosphorylation and activation of AMPK. These new encouraging experimental data supporting the anti-cancer effects of metformin urgently require further clinical studies in order to establish its use as a synergistic therapy targeting the AMPK/mTOR signaling pathway.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Drug Repositioning
  • Humans
  • Hypoglycemic Agents / pharmacology
  • Hypoglycemic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Medical Oncology / trends*
  • Metformin / pharmacology*
  • Metformin / therapeutic use*
  • Models, Biological
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Pharmacogenetics / methods
  • Pharmacogenetics / trends
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Signal Transduction / physiology


  • Hypoglycemic Agents
  • Metformin