Metformin as an adjuvant treatment for cancer: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Ann Oncol. 2016 Dec;27(12):2184-2195. doi: 10.1093/annonc/mdw410. Epub 2016 Sep 28.


Background: Metformin use has been associated with a reduced risk of developing cancer and an improvement in overall cancer survival rates in meta-analyses, but, to date, evidence to support the use of metformin as an adjuvant therapy in individual cancer types has not been presented.

Patients and methods: We systematically searched research databases, conference abstracts and trial registries for any studies reporting cancer outcomes for individual tumour types in metformin users compared with non-users, and extracted data on patients with early-stage cancer. Studies were assessed for design and quality, and a meta-analysis was conducted to quantify the adjuvant effect of metformin on recurrence-free survival (RFS), overall survival (OS) and cancer-specific survival (CSS), to inform future trial design.

Results: Of 7670 articles screened, 27 eligible studies were identified comprising 24 178 participants, all enrolled in observational studies. In those with early-stage colorectal cancer, metformin use was associated with a significant benefit in all outcomes [RFS hazard ratio (HR) 0.63, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.47-0.85; OS HR 0.69, CI 0.58-0.83; CSS HR 0.58, CI 0.39-0.86]. For men with early-stage prostate cancer, metformin was associated with significant, or borderline significant, benefits in all outcomes (RFS HR 0.83, CI 0.69-1.00; OS HR 0.82, CI 0.73-0.93; CSS HR 0.58, CI 0.37-0.93); however, there was significant heterogeneity between studies. The data suggest that prostate cancer patients treated with radical radiotherapy may benefit more from metformin (RFS HR 0.45, CI 0.29-0.70). In breast and urothelial cancer, no significant benefits were identified. Sufficient data were not available to conduct analyses on the impact of metformin dose and duration.

Conclusions: Our findings suggest that metformin could be a useful adjuvant agent, with the greatest benefits seen in colorectal and prostate cancer, particularly in those receiving radical radiotherapy, and randomised, controlled trials which investigate dose and duration, alongside efficacy, are advocated.

Keywords: adjuvant; breast cancer; colorectal cancer; metformin; prostate cancer; repurposing.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Chemotherapy, Adjuvant*
  • Disease-Free Survival
  • Humans
  • Metformin / adverse effects
  • Metformin / therapeutic use*
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / pathology


  • Metformin