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August 2, 2009

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Drug found to cut diabetics' risk of cancer

DIABETICS who took the drug metformin, which makes the body process insulin better, had a 62 percent lower risk of pancreatic cancer compared to those who had never received it, US researchers said yesterday.

But the risk of getting the cancer, one of the deadliest, was significantly higher among diabetics who took insulin or drugs that make the body produce more insulin, according to their study published in the journal Gastroenterology.

"We find that diabetics that had ever used metformin alone or in combination with other drugs had a 60 percent reduced risk for pancreatic cancer, compared to diabetic patients who never used metformin," lead researcher Donghui Li from The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center said.

Prior studies showed a lower cancer risk in diabetics who took metformin. The drug is used to treat type 2 diabetes, which is linked with poor diet and lack of exercise and accounts for about 90 percent of all worldwide cases.

"In addition, we see some increased risk of pancreatic cancer associated with the use of insulin and the use of insulin secretagogues."

Those are drugs, such as sulfonylureas and glinides, which stimulate the pancreas to secrete more insulin or raise circulating levels of insulin.

Diabetics in the study who had taken insulin were nearly five times more likely to develop pancreatic cancer. And those who took insulin-stimulating drugs were 2.55 times more likely to develop pancreatic cancer.

For her study, Li evaluated 1,800 people, including more than 900 who had pancreatic cancer and 350 with diabetes.

The groups were matched by age, race and gender and completed detailed surveys of their health histories.

Insulin is known to promote cell growth.

"Insulin seems to have a growth promoting effect in cancer," Li said.


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