Aims/hypothesis: Observational studies suggest that metformin may reduce cancer risk by approximately one-third. We examined cancer outcomes and all-cause mortality in published randomised controlled trials (RCTs).
Methods: RCTs comparing metformin with active glucose-lowering therapy or placebo/usual care, with minimum 500 participants and 1-year follow-up, were identified by systematic review. Data on cancer incidence and all-cause mortality were obtained from publications or by contacting investigators. For two trials, cancer incidence data were not available; cancer mortality was used as a surrogate. Summary RRs, 95% CIs and I (2)statistics for heterogeneity were calculated by fixed effects meta-analysis.
Results: Of 4,039 abstracts identified, 94 publications described 14 eligible studies. RRs for cancer were available from 11 RCTs with 398 cancers during 51,681 person-years. RRs for all-cause mortality were available from 13 RCTs with 552 deaths during 66,447 person-years. Summary RRs for cancer outcomes in people randomised to metformin compared with any comparator were 1.02 (95% CI 0.82, 1.26) across all trials, 0.98 (95% CI 0.77, 1.23) in a subgroup analysis of active-comparator trials and 1.36 (95% CI 0.74, 2.49) in a subgroup analysis of placebo/usual care comparator trials. The summary RR for all-cause mortality was 0.94 (95% CI 0.79, 1.12) across all trials.
Conclusions/interpretation: Meta-analysis of currently available RCT data does not support the hypothesis that metformin lowers cancer risk by one-third. Eligible trials also showed no significant effect of metformin on all-cause mortality. However, limitations include heterogeneous comparator types, absent cancer data from two trials, and short follow-up, especially for mortality.