Metformin use and incidence cancer risk: evidence for a selective protective effect against liver cancer


Several observational studies suggest that metformin reduces incidence cancer risk; however, many of these studies suffer from time-related biases and several cancer outcomes have not been investigated due to small sample sizes.

We constructed a propensity score-matched retrospective cohort of 84,434 veterans newly prescribed metformin or a sulfonylurea as monotherapy. We used Cox proportional hazard regression to assess the association between metformin use compared to sulfonylurea use and incidence cancer risk for 10 solid tumors. We adjusted for clinical covariates including hemoglobin A1C, antihypertensive and lipid-lowering medications, and body mass index. Incidence cancers were defined by ICD-9-CM codes.

Among 42,217 new metformin users and 42,217 matched-new sulfonylurea users, we identified 2,575 incidence cancers. Metformin was inversely associated with liver cancer (adjusted hazard ratio [aHR] = 0.44, 95% CI 0.31, 0.64) compared to sulfonylurea. We found no association between metformin use and risk of incidence bladder, breast, colorectal, esophageal, gastric, lung, pancreatic, prostate, or renal cancer when compared to sulfonylurea use.

In this large cohort study that accounted for time-related biases, we observed no association between the use of metformin and most cancers; however, we found a strong inverse association between metformin and liver cancer. Randomized trials of metformin for prevention of liver cancer would be useful to verify these observations.

In Cancer Causes & Control