Drug protects against pancreatic cancer?

August 4, 2009 8:40:14 AM PDT
There is very good news today in the fight against pancreatic cancer. Houston researchers have found that a common and inexpensive drug taken for diabetes can protect people against that type of cancer. Al Fridkin is one of thousands of people who takes Metformin for his diabetes. It's the most common diabetes drug. Now, M.D. Anderson scientists say, that inexpensive drug may also prevent cancer.

In study just published in a Medical Journal, M.D. Anderson researchers found that people who took Metformin for diabetes have a 62 percent lower risk of pancreatic cancer.

"It's a safe and inexpensive drug we can use this drug give it to diabetes patients as a preventive strategy to reduce their risk of pancreatic cancer. To me that's very exciting," said pancreatic cancer researcher, Donghui Li, PhD.

The theory is that Metformin which reduces the risk of circulating insulin and that reduces the risk of pancreatic cancer -- it also has a side effect of causing people to lose weight and that too reduces the risk of cancer.

The American Diabetes Association recommends all people with type 2 diabetes take Metformin along with their other medicines, because of its cancer protective properties.

But there's a flip side to this good news. Houston scientists found that diabetics who took insulin were at higher risk for pancreatic cancer. Insulin is usually given in advanced diabetes.

Here's the take home message: Diabetics who take Metformin can reduce their risk of pancreatic cancer by 62 percent. Patient with diabetes who take insulin may increase it. So they should be a little extra vigilant.

At least 40 million prescriptions of Metformin were written last year. The drug is also being tested in patients with breast cancer. Houston scientists believe it makes the cancer more sensitive to the chemotherapy.

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Christi Myers is ABC13's Healthcheck reporter.

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