Diabetes drug may prevent liver tumors

Those with type II diabetes are at two to three times the risk of developing primary liver cancer. But new research from the University of Marylandshows that a common drug many patients already take may prevent the cancer.

Studies on animals show that the diabetes drug metformin may help prevent liver tumors from growing.

Primary liver cancer is often deadly and is on the rise, according to researchers at Maryland’s Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center.

The drug could benefit diabetics as well as others at risk for primary liver cancer, including those who are obese, have hepatitis or non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Metformin, derived from the French lilac, is being studied for treatment of several kinds of cancer. Maryland’s study, published in the April issue of Cancer Prevention Research, is the first to look at prevention of liver cancer.

“Mice treated with metformin had significantly smaller and fewer tumors than those who did not receive the medication,” the study’s senior author, Geoffrey D. Girnun, assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology in Maryland’s school of medicine and a research scientist in the cancer center, said in a statement. “Based on these findings, we believe metformin should be evaluated as a preventive agent in people who are at high risk. Many patients with diabetes already are taking this medication, with few side effects.”

The study found mice treated with metformin in their food developed 57 percent fewer liver tumors. Those with tumors saw a 37 percent reduction in their size.