Metformin, a first line medication for type II diabetes, initially entered the spotlight as a promising anti-cancer agent due to epidemiologic reports that found reduced cancer risk and improved clinical outcomes in diabetic patients taking metformin. To uncover the anti-cancer mechanisms of metformin, preclinical studies determined that metformin impairs cellular metabolism and suppresses oncogenic signaling pathways, including receptor tyrosine kinase, PI3K/Akt, and mTOR pathways. Recently, the anti-cancer potential of metformin has gained increasing interest due to its inhibitory effects on cancer stem cells (CSCs), which are associated with tumor metastasis, drug resistance, and relapse. Studies using various cancer models, including breast, pancreatic, prostate, and colon, have demonstrated the potency of metformin in attenuating CSCs through the targeting of specific pathways involved in cell differentiation, renewal, metastasis, and metabolism. In this review, we provide a comprehensive overview of the anti-cancer actions and mechanisms of metformin, including the regulation of CSCs and related pathways. We also discuss the potential anti-cancer applications of metformin as mono- or combination therapies.
Keywords: AMPK/mTOR pathway; anti-cancer drugs; cancer stem cells; cellular metabolism; metformin.
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