Hiding in plain view: the potential for commonly used drugs to reduce breast cancer mortality

Breast Cancer Res. 2012 Dec 10;14(6):216. doi: 10.1186/bcr3336.


Many medications have been developed for one purpose but then are found to have other clinical activities. There is tremendous interest in whether non-cancer medications may potentially have effects on breast cancer survival. In this review article, we have presented and evaluated the evidence for several commonly used over-the-counter and prescription medications - including aspirin (and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), beta-blockers, angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, statins, digoxin, and metformin - that have been evaluated among breast cancer survivors in prospective studies. Substantial scientific evidence supports the hypothesis that some of these common and relatively safe drugs may reduce breast cancer mortality among those with the disease by an amount that rivals the mortality reduction gained by currently used therapies. In particular, the evidence is strongest for aspirin (approximately 50% reduction), statins (approximately 25% reduction), and metformin (approximately 50% reduction). As these drugs are generic and inexpensive, there is little incentive for the pharmaceutical industry to fund the randomized trials that would show their effectiveness definitively. We advocate that confirmation of these findings in randomized trials be considered a high research priority, as the potential impact on human lives saved could be immense.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adrenergic beta-Antagonists / therapeutic use
  • Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / therapeutic use
  • Aspirin / therapeutic use
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Breast Neoplasms / mortality
  • Digoxin / therapeutic use
  • Drug Repositioning*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydroxymethylglutaryl-CoA Reductase Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Metformin / therapeutic use
  • Off-Label Use*


  • Adrenergic beta-Antagonists
  • Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal
  • Hydroxymethylglutaryl-CoA Reductase Inhibitors
  • Digoxin
  • Metformin
  • Aspirin