Introduction: Metformin, an oral hypoglycemic agent, was introduced in the clinical practice for the treatment of type 2 diabetes mellitus more than a half-century ago. Over the years, several studies demonstrated that diabetic patients treated with metformin have a lower incidence of cancer, raising the hypothesis that the spectrum of clinical applications of the drug could be expanded also to cancer therapy. Following these initial findings, a large number of studies were performed aimed at elucidating the effects of metformin on different types of tumor, at explaining its direct and indirect anti-cancer mechanisms and at identifying the molecular pathways targeted by the drug. Several clinical trials were also performed aimed at evaluating the potential anti-cancer effect of metformin among diabetic and non-diabetic patients affected by different types of cancer. While the results of several clinical studies are encouraging, a considerable number of other investigations do not support a role of metformin as an anti-cancer agent, and highlight variables possibly accounting for discrepancies. Aim: We hereby review the results of in vitro and in vivo studies addressing the issue of the anti-cancer effects of metformin. Conclusions: If in vitro data appear solid, the results provided by in vivo studies are somehow controversial. In this view, larger studies are needed to fully elucidate the role of metformin on cancer development and progression, as well as the specific clinical settings in which metformin could become an anti-cancer drug.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism