An agent widely used to control type 2 diabetes and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) could also have a role in the management of patients with endometrial cancer, says a team of researchers based in the United Kingdom.

PCOS is the most common endocrinopathy in women associated with an increased risk of endometrial hyperplasia. In addition, recent research has shown metformin to have anticancer properties, such as in breast cancer. Because insulin-resistant states such as obesity, diabetes, and PCOS raise the risk for endometrial cancer, Dr. Harpal S. Randeva, of the Endocrinology and Metabolism Group at Warwick Medical School in Coventry, and colleagues wanted to determine the effects of metformin treatment on endometrial adenocarcinoma cells.

Using serum from women with PCOS, the investigators found that in vitro invasion of the endometrial cells was significantly weakened after 6 months of metformin treatment (850 mg twice daily) compared with matched controls: The rate of spread of the cancer cells was approximately 25% lower in the serum samples from women with PCOS than from women who had not undergone metformin therapy.

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The effects of metformin appear to be associated with pathways known to be important regulators of inflammation, tumor invasion, and metastasis (J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2011;96[3]:808-816).

“We are very excited about our findings, which reveal the significant impact of metformin therapy use on human endometrial cancer cells,” commented Randeva and co-principal investigator Dr. Bee Tan in a statement describing the study results. “However, it is prudent that further research to explore if metformin would actually be beneficial clinically as adjuvant therapy in endometrial cancer. This would need to be addressed through a randomized controlled trial.”