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Study Points to Metformin as Potential Mesothelioma Treatment


Metformin pills spill out of an orange pill bottle. They may one day have a role in mesothelioma treatment.

Medical studies have revealed some surprising properties of the diabetes drug metformin. In addition to controlling high blood sugar, this medication may fight some cancers. Metformin has been linked to improved survival in some forms of lung cancer. The drug is also associated with survival benefits in colorectal and prostate cancers.

Metformin’s results in other cancers led a group of Italian researchers to investigate it in mesothelioma. They ran experiments to see if and how metformin might treat this rare cancer. Early results show metformin can fight mesothelioma in laboratory environments.

Additional research is necessary to determine if these results will hold true for patients. If they do, metformin may one day have a place among mesothelioma treatments.

Metformin Demonstrated Mesothelioma-Fighting Properties

The Italian research group did a series of lab tests on mesothelioma cells. The researchers designed their study to answer a few questions:

  • Can metformin fight the development of mesothelioma?
  • Can metformin hurt or kill mesothelioma cells without damaging healthy cells?
  • Does metformin kill mesothelioma cells?
  • Does metformin slow the growth of mesothelioma cells?

The answer to each of these questions: yes.

Test results showed metformin killed some mesothelioma cells without hurting healthy cells. The drug also slowed the growth of mesothelioma cells.

What does it mean? Metformin may one day work as a mesothelioma treatment. It can kill mesothelioma cells, and it may slow the growth of tumor cells it does not kill.

Tests also suggested metformin may interfere with mesothelioma development. Research shows mesothelioma cells have problems with a signaling pathway called Notch. These Notch issues may play a role in turning healthy mesothelial cells into cancer cells.

In the study, metformin helped address Notch signaling problems in mesothelioma cells.

What does it mean? Metformin may interfere with a process linked to the development of mesothelioma. This may suggest the drug could one day have a role in prevention.

Researchers performed these tests on mesothelioma cells in a laboratory. It remains to be seen whether metformin will have similar effects in mesothelioma patients.

Study Results Add to Known Anti-Cancer Effects of Metformin

Although these findings for mesothelioma are new, metformin’s anti-cancer effects are well established in other cancers. These newer results contribute to a decade of research demonstrating metformin’s cancer-fighting abilities.

Prior metformin and cancer studies have reported the following:

  • Breast cancer: Metformin may extend the time it takes for cancer to come back when added to traditional treatment.
  • Colorectal cancer: Metformin is linked to improved survival. It may also extend the time it takes for cancer to come back.
  • Prostate cancer: Metformin is linked to improved survival. It may also extend the time it takes for cancer to come back.

Metformin has also been studied in lung cancer. Like mesothelioma, lung cancer can be caused by asbestos exposure. This might allow metformin to have similar effects in both cancers.

Real Life Data Shows Metformin Fights Lung Cancer

Metformin may offer substantial benefits for lung cancer patients. Studies show metformin may provide the following for people with lung cancer:

  • Improved overall survival: Metformin prolonged survival in patients who took the drug after diagnosis.
  • Improved progression-free survival: Metformin extended the time between treatment and cancer progression.

Evidence also suggests metformin may reduce a person’s risk of developing lung cancer. Researchers do not know if the drug has similar effects in mesothelioma, but there is reason to hope.

Asbestos can cause lung cancer or mesothelioma. Asbestos fibers may trigger similar processes in causing both cancers. If so, it is possible that a lung cancer-fighting drug might also fight mesothelioma.

Study Data Could Lead to a Novel Mesothelioma Treatment

The Italian study raises the possibility that metformin may fight mesothelioma. Their research is preliminary, but it agrees with earlier data demonstrating the anti-cancer properties of the drug.

The study authors say their results “could lead to a novel therapy” for malignant mesothelioma. Researchers may test metformin in mesothelioma clinical trials before this happens. If the trials go well, future patients may see metformin offered as a mesothelioma treatment option.