Metformin, a widely prescribed insulin-lowering drug for diabetes, has been associated with survival in ovarian cancer and is worthy of further study, as it may be considered for the prevention or treatment of ovarian cancer, according to the results of a study published in Cancer.[1]

Each year in the United States, roughly 22,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer and more than 15,000 die of the disease. Treatment for ovarian cancer commonly involves surgery and/or chemotherapy, but outcomes remain poor because the disease is often not diagnosed until it has reached advanced stages.

Approximately 25.8 million people in the United States have diabetes, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly 95 percent of diabetes cases are type 2 diabetes, which is a disease characterized by insulin resistance. Insulin is a hormone that helps regulate the level of glucose (sugar) in the body. With type 2 diabetes, the body’s ability to make and use insulin deteriorates. Metformin is a drug that increases insulin sensitivity and is commonly used to treat type 2 diabetes.

Previously, metformin has been associated with a reduced risk of invasive breast cancer in postmenopausal women with diabetes.[2] Now researchers are studying its impact on ovarian cancer. In a retrospective case-control study, researchers analyzed data from 61 patients with ovarian cancer who took metformin and 178 patients who did not take the drug.

They found that women who took metformin had significantly better survival than those who did not. The five-year survival rate for women who took metformin was 67 percent, compared to 47 percent for those who did not take the drug. After accounting for factors such as cancer severity and body mass index (BMI), the researchers found that patients taking metformin were 3.7 times more likely to survive than those who were not.

The researchers concluded that metformin was associated with better survival in ovarian cancer and they suggest that additional studies are necessary to evaluate the use of the drug in this disease.


[1] Kumar S, Meuter A, Thapa P, et al. Metformin intake is associated with better survival in ovarian cancer: A case-control study. Cancer. Published early online December 3, 2012. DOI: 10.1002/cncr.27706

[2] Chlebowski RT, McTiernan A, Wactawski-Wende J, et al. Diabetes, metformin, and breast cancer in postmenopausal women. Journal of Clinical Oncology. Published early online June 11, 2012. doi: 10.1200/JCO.2011.39.7505

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