Metformin Treatment and Cancer Risk: Cox Regression Analysis, With Time-Dependent Covariates, of 320,000 Persons With Incident Diabetes Mellitus

Am J Epidemiol. 2019 Oct 1;188(10):1794-1800. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwz157.


There is conflicting evidence regarding the association between metformin use and cancer risk in diabetic patients. During 2002-2012, we followed a cohort of 315,890 persons aged 21-87 years with incident diabetes who were insured by the largest health maintenance organization in Israel. We used a discrete form of weighted cumulative metformin exposure to evaluate the association of metformin with cancer incidence. This was implemented in a time-dependent covariate Cox model, adjusting for treatment with other glucose-lowering medications, as well as age, sex, ethnic background, socioeconomic status, smoking (for bladder and lung cancer), and parity (for breast cancer). We excluded from the analysis metformin exposure during the year before cancer diagnosis in order to minimize reverse causation of cancer on changes in medication use. Estimated hazard ratios associated with exposure to 1 defined daily dose of metformin over the previous 2-7 years were 0.98 (95% confidence interval (CI): 0.82, 1.18) for all-sites cancer (excluding prostate and pancreas), 1.05 (95% CI: 0.67, 1.63) for colon cancer, 0.98 (95% CI: 0.49, 1.97) for bladder cancer, 1.02 (95% CI: 0.59, 1.78) for lung cancer, and 0.88 (95% CI: 0.56, 1.39) for female breast cancer. Our results do not support an association between metformin treatment and the incidence of major cancers (excluding prostate and pancreas).

Keywords: bladder cancer; breast cancer; colorectal cancer; diabetes mellitus; lung cancer; metformin; time-varying treatment; weighted cumulative exposure.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / drug therapy*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypoglycemic Agents / adverse effects*
  • Hypoglycemic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Incidence
  • Israel / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Metformin / adverse effects*
  • Metformin / therapeutic use
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / chemically induced*
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Risk Factors
  • Time Factors
  • Young Adult


  • Hypoglycemic Agents
  • Metformin