Study looks at cancer preventative effects of anti-diabetic drug

University of Arizona Cancer Center researcher H-H. Sherry Chow, PhD, has received $2.8 million to study how an anti-diabetic drug may reduce breast cancer risk.

Dr. Chow says recent studies found that treatment with metformin, a widely used anti-diabetic drug, appears to substantially reduce the risk for development of cancer in diabetics, including breast cancer.

“Studies have also shown that metformin’s breast cancer preventive activities may be mediated through its favorable effects on body’s metabolism and hormone imbalance and metformin may only suppress cancer in individuals who are overweight and have metabolic disturbances,” Dr. Chow says.

Dr. Chow says studies suggest that approximately 20 percent of breast cancer cases in postmenopausal women are attributable to adulthood weight gain, and the increased risk of breast cancer in overweight women is likely to be attributed to multiple metabolic disturbances.

Dr. Chow’s study will focus on overweight premenopausal women with metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions – a high blood sugar level, excess body fat around the waist, abnormal cholesterol levels and increased blood pressure. Studies suggest that metabolic syndrome increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and breast cancer after menopause.

Using the five-year grant from the National Cancer Institute (CA172444), Dr. Chow and her team will study the effect of metformin intervention on breast density using a novel imaging technique, determine the effect of metformin intervention on metabolic disturbances and body weight/composition, and explore the application of metabolomics – the systematic study of end products (metabolites) of specific cellular processes  – as a systems biology approach to assess the chemopreventive mechanisms of metformin

“Our proposed study represents the initial steps in clinical evaluation of metformin for modulation of breast cancer risk in a population at risk for multiple diseases. Findings from this study will have wide public health impact because of the growing overweight and obese populations,” Dr. Chow says.

Dr. Chow and her team are seeking study participants. Eligibility criteria include premenopausal women age 30-45, who are overweight and have metabolic syndrome (a cluster of some of the following conditions: high blood sugar, excess fat around the waist, abnormal cholesterol and high blood pressure). For more information, call (520) 321-7798 or email .

Dr. Chow, a professor of medicine at the UA, is an active cancer prevention investigator. She co-leads the Cancer Center’s Early Phase Cancer Chemoprevention Consortium, which in 2012 received $9.6 million to support clinical and translational research of cancer preventive drugs or neutraceuticals. The Early Phase Consortium has been funded by the National Cancer Institute since 2003.

Co-investigators on the metformin study were Cancer Center researchers Alison Stopeck, MD; Patricia Thompson, PhD; Cynthia Thomson, PhD; Denise Roe, PhD; Jean-Phillipe Galons, PhD; Maria Altbach, PhD, and Jessie Miller, PhD.

- Jan. 29, 2014