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Can Diabetes Medicines Prevent Cancer?

By Staci Gulbin, MS, MEd, RD, LDN • Reviewed by Robert Ehrman, MD

78022883If you have been told that you have diabetes, it might seem like the end of the world. You may not be able to think about anything except the bad things linked with the disease:

  • The extra costs.
  • The lifestyle changes that you need to make.
  • The risk of other disease, such as heart attacks and strokes.

However, researchers have found that (if you are a woman with diabetes) certain diabetes medicines might help lower your risk of some cancers. Researchers looked at two diabetes medicines in this study:

Insulin sensitizers (metformin, Avandia, Actos) lower blood glucose and insulin levels in the body by making the muscle, liver and fat respond better to insulin. There are several types of medicines in this group that all work in slightly different ways.

Insulin-release stimulators (glyburide, glipizide) lower blood glucose by telling the cells in your pancreas to make more insulin.

The research

A 2013 study compared records from a diabetes database with records from a cancer database. The study found that women with diabetes who took insulin sensitizers, such as metformin, Actos, or Avandia, had a 20 percent lower risk of getting cancer than those who took insulin-release stimulators like glyburide or glipizide. People in the study without diabetes who took insulin sensitizers had about a 33 percent lower risk of getting cancer than those who took insulin-release stimulators. This result was not seen in men, but more studies may need to be done to confirm these results.

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