American Association for Cancer Research

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Metformin May Protect Against Liver Cancer


March 31, 2012

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  • Metformin activity occurs primarily in the liver.
  • Drug is safe and well-tolerated in patients with diabetes.

PHILADELPHIA — Metformin, a widely used, well-tolerated drug prescribed for patients with diabetes, may protect against liver cancer, according to a study published in Cancer Prevention Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

The study, led by Geoffrey Girnun, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the department of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, is one more in an ongoing look at the effect of metformin in cancer prevention. However, it is one of the first to evaluate liver cancer.

“Since many of the effects of the drug take place in the liver, we were surprised when we reviewed the literature that there was no direct evidence for a protective effect of metformin in liver cancer except for a few retrospective epidemiological studies,” said Girnun.

He and his colleagues chemically induced liver tumors in mice. The mice taking metformin displayed minimal tumor activity, while the control mice displayed significant tumor growth.

Girnun’s team also showed that metformin prevented liver cancer in part by inhibiting lipid synthesis in the liver, a process known to promote cancer. Patients with diabetes, obese individuals, patients with hepatitis or patients with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease are at the greatest risk for liver cancer. All these diseases are associated with increased lipid synthesis. While diabetic patients are already prescribed metformin for their conditions, according to Girnun, the mechanism by which metformin prevents liver cancer may be transferable to these other patient populations at risk for liver cancer.

“So we are talking about a targeted population that will receive this benefit,” he said.

Girnun is currently planning a clinical trial in patients at risk for liver cancer to determine if the chemopreventive qualities observed in mice are confirmed in humans.

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About the AACR

Founded in 1907, the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) is the world’s first and largest professional organization dedicated to advancing cancer research and its mission to prevent and cure cancer. AACR’s membership includes 34,000 laboratory, translational and clinical researchers; population scientists; other health care professionals; and cancer advocates residing in more than 90 countries. The AACR marshals the full spectrum of expertise of the cancer community to accelerate progress in the prevention, biology, diagnosis and treatment of cancer by annually convening more than 20 conferences and educational workshops, the largest of which is the AACR Annual Meeting with more than 18,000 attendees. In addition, the AACR publishes seven peer-reviewed scientific journals and a magazine for cancer survivors, patients and their caregivers. The AACR funds meritorious research directly as well as in cooperation with numerous cancer organizations. As the Scientific Partner of Stand Up To Cancer, the AACR provides expert peer review, grants administration and scientific oversight of individual and team science grants in cancer research that have the potential for patient benefit. The AACR actively communicates with legislators and policymakers about the value of cancer research and related biomedical science in saving lives from cancer.  

For more information about the AACR, visit www.AACR.org.



Media Contact:
Jeremy Moore
(215) 446-7109
Jeremy.Moore@aacr.org