Metformin as an adjunctive therapy for pancreatic cancer: A review of the literature on its potential therapeutic use

Philip J. Broadhurst, Andrew R. Hart

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Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma has the worst prognosis of any cancer. New adjuvant chemotherapies are urgently required, which are well tolerated by patients with unresectable cancers. This paper reviews the existing proof of concept data, namely laboratory, pharmacoepidemiological, experimental medicine and clinical trial evidence for investigating metformin in patients with pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma. Laboratory evidence shows metformin inhibits mitochondrial ATP synthesis which directly and indirectly inhibits carcinogenesis. Drug–drug interactions of metformin with proton pump inhibitors and histamine H2-receptor antagonists may be of clinical relevance and pertinent to future research of metformin in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma. To date, most cohort studies have demonstrated a positive association with metformin on survival in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma, although there are many methodological limitations with such study designs. From experimental medicine studies, there are sparse data in humans. The current trials of metformin have methodological limitations. Two small randomized controlled trials (RCTs) reported null findings, but there were potential inequalities in cancer staging between groups and poor compliance with the intervention. Proof of concept data, predominantly from laboratory work, supports assessing metformin as an adjunct for pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma in RCTs. Ideally, more experimental medicine studies are needed for proof of concept. However, many feasibility criteria need to be answered before such trials can progress.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2840–2852
Number of pages13
JournalDigestive Diseases and Sciences
Issue number11
Early online date29 Aug 2018
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2018


  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Metformin
  • Survival
  • Proof of concept

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