Therapeutic potential of the anti-diabetic agent metformin in targeting the skin cancer stem cell diaspora

Exp Dermatol. 2014 May;23(5):345-6. doi: 10.1111/exd.12349.


Type II diabetes is associated with increased prevalence of cancer including both melanoma and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) of the skin. Emerging evidence from epidemiological studies suggest that diabetic patients on metformin have a lower risk of cancer incidence and mortality in a broad range of neoplasms. In both melanoma and SCC, populations of cancer stem cells (CSC) contribute to tumor initiation and metastasis. We propose that metformin constitutes a new class of targeted therapy that acts on the skin CSC diaspora. We posit that metformin selectively and simultaneously targets CSCs of the primary tumor as well as in metastatic niches thereby disrupting the dynamic dispersal of circulating CSCs between the primary tumor and metastatic site. This hypothesis suggests a new concept in dermato-oncology that treatment of type II diabetes and prevention of skin cancer are two sides of the same coin.

Keywords: cancer diaspora; cancer stem cell; chemoprevention; diabetes mellitus; melanoma; metastasis; metformin; skin cancer; squamous cell carcinoma.

Publication types

  • Letter

MeSH terms

  • Chemoprevention
  • Diabetes Complications / prevention & control
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / complications
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Hypoglycemic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Melanoma / drug therapy*
  • Metformin / therapeutic use*
  • Neoplasm Metastasis
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / drug effects*
  • Skin Neoplasms / drug therapy*


  • Hypoglycemic Agents
  • Metformin