Washington: Metformin, a drug that is widely used to treat Type II diabetes, may help to prevent primary liver cancer, a new study has claimed.
According to researchers at the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center primary liver cancer, or hepatocellular carcinoma, is an often-deadly form of cancer that is on the rise worldwide and is the fastest-growing cause of cancer-related deaths among American men.
Patients with Type II diabetes have a two- to three-fold increased relative risk of developing primary liver cancer.
Also at risk are people who are obese, have hepatitis or non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Metformin, which is derived from the French lilac, is used to treat NAFLD as well as diabetes, and currently is being studied in connection with the prevention of a variety of cancers.
“Our research demonstrated that metformin prevents primary liver cancer in animal models. Mice treated with metformin had significantly smaller and fewer tumors than those who did not receive the medication,” Geoffrey D. Girnun, the study`s senior author, said.
“Based on these findings, we believe metformin should be evaluated as a preventive agent in people who are at high risk. Many patients with diabetes already are taking this medication, with few side effects.
“There have been several retrospective epidemiological studies linking metformin with reduced risk of liver cancer, but our study is the first to formally test whether metformin can protect against carcinogenesis – not just tumor growth and development, but actual tumor formation in the liver,” Girnun said.
Glucose is converted into fatty acids in the liver through a process called lipogenesis.
This process is increased in people who have diabetes, hepatitis, fatty liver disease as well as cancer.
According to Girnun, metformin reduces the level of glucose and inhibits this fatty acid synthesis.
“When you block this process, you prevent the cells from making more building blocks to make more cells. There is also no energy to put the building blocks together, and the cells are not able to proliferate, thereby preventing tumors from developing,” he added.
In the study, the researchers found that mice treated with metformin in their food developed 57 percent fewer liver tumours than the mice that did not receive the drug; the size of the tumours was reduced by about 37 percent.
The study has been published in Cancer Prevention Research.