Association of metformin use and cancer incidence: a systematic review and meta-analysis

J Natl Cancer Inst. 2024 Apr 5;116(4):518-529. doi: 10.1093/jnci/djae021.


Background: Metformin is among the most widely used antidiabetics medications because of its minimal toxicity, favorable safety profile, availability, and low cost. In addition to its role in diabetes management, metformin may reduce cancer risk.

Methods: We conducted a comprehensive systematic review and meta-analysis to investigate the association between metformin use and cancer risk, with evaluation by specific cancer type when possible. Applicable studies were identified in PubMed/MEDLINE, Embase, Cochrane Library, Web of Science, and Scopus from inception through March 7, 2023, with metformin use categorized as "ever" or "yes" and a cancer diagnosis as the outcome. Article quality was evaluated using National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute guidelines, and publication bias was evaluated using the Egger test, Begg test, and funnel plots. Pooled relative risk (RR) estimates were calculated using random-effects models, and sensitivity analysis was completed through leave-one-out cross-validation.

Results: We included 166 studies with cancer incidence information in the meta-analysis. Reduced risk for overall cancer was observed in case-control studies (RR = 0.55, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.30 to 0.80) and prospective cohort studies (RR = 0.65, 95% CI = 0.37 to 0.93). Metformin use was associated with reduced gastrointestinal (RR = 0.79, 95% CI = 0.73 to 0.85), urologic (RR = 0.88, 95% CI = 0.78 to 0.99), and hematologic (RR = 0.87, 95% CI = 0.75 to 0.99) cancer risk. Statistically significant publication bias was observed within the studies (Egger P < .001).

Conclusions: Metformin may be associated with a decreased risk of many cancer types, but high heterogeneity and risk of publication bias limit confidence in these results. Additional studies in populations without diabetes are needed to better understand the utility of metformin in cancer prevention.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2*
  • Humans
  • Hypoglycemic Agents / adverse effects
  • Metformin* / therapeutic use
  • Neoplasms* / drug therapy
  • Neoplasms* / epidemiology
  • Neoplasms* / prevention & control
  • Prospective Studies


  • Metformin
  • Hypoglycemic Agents