Metformin, a widely used, well-tolerated drug prescribed for patients with diabetes, may protect against liver cancer, according to a study published in Cancer Prevention Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.
The study, led by Geoffrey Girnun, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the department of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, is one more in an ongoing look at the effect of metformin in cancer prevention. However, it is one of the first to evaluate liver cancer.
“Since many of the effects of the drug take place in the liver, we were surprised when we reviewed the literature that there was no direct evidence for a protective effect of metformin in liver cancer except for a few retrospective epidemiological studies,” said Girnun.
He and his colleagues chemically induced liver tumors in mice. The mice taking metformin displayed minimal tumor activity, while the control mice displayed significant tumor growth.
Girnun’s team also showed that metformin prevented liver cancer in part by inhibiting lipid synthesis in the liver, a process known to promote cancer. Patients with diabetes, obese individuals, patients with hepatitis or patients with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease are at the greatest risk for liver cancer. All these diseases are associated with increased lipid synthesis. While diabetic patients are already prescribed metformin for their conditions, according to Girnun, the mechanism by which metformin prevents liver cancer may be transferable to these other patient populations at risk for liver cancer.
“So we are talking about a targeted population that will receive this benefit,” he said.
What are the Symptoms of Liver Cancer?
Most of the time liver cancer in the early stages does not cause symptoms. If symptoms are present, they may include:
- unexplained weight loss
- on-going lack of appetite
- fullness after a small meal
- a swollen liver or a mass that can be felt in the area of the liver
- ongoing stomach pain extending to the back and shoulder
- a swollen abdomen
- yellow-green color to the skin and eyes (jaundice)
- increased symptoms of illness in those who have chronic hepatitis or cirrhosis
The above symptoms could be caused by liver cancer, but they also can be caused by other cancers or conditions. It is important to report any of these symptoms to a doctor.
Girnun is currently planning a clinical trial in patients at risk for liver cancer to determine if the chemopreventive qualities observed in mice are confirmed in humans.
Liver cancer, or hepatocellular carcinoma, is a disease in which malignant cells grow in the tissue of the liver, one of the largest organs in the body.
The liver is an essential organ that people cannot live without. It processes and stores many of the nutrients absorbed from the intestine, causes the secretion of bile that helps in the digestion of food, and produces some of the clotting factors that keep you from bleeding too much when cut or injured. The liver gets most of its supply of blood from the hepatic portal vein, which carries nutrient-rich blood from the intestines; the rest comes from the hepatic artery, which supplies the liver with blood that is rich in oxygen.
Because the liver is made up of several different types of cells, several types of tumors can form in the liver; some are cancerous and some are benign.
Roughly 75 percent of primary liver cancers begin in hepatocytes (liver cells). Hepatocellular carcinoma most commonly occurs in people whose livers have been damaged. This damage is usually caused by alcohol abuse, by chronic infection with the hepatitis B or hepatitis C virus, or cirrhosis, from food contaminants, or from metabolic diseases.
About the AACR
Founded in 1907, the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) is the world’s first and largest professional organization dedicated to advancing cancer research and its mission to prevent and cure cancer. AACR’s membership includes 34,000 laboratory, translational and clinical researchers; population scientists; other health care professionals; and cancer advocates residing in more than 90 countries. The AACR marshals the full spectrum of expertise of the cancer community to accelerate progress in the prevention, biology, diagnosis and treatment of cancer by annually convening more than 20 conferences and educational workshops, the largest of which is the AACR Annual Meeting with more than 18,000 attendees. In addition, the AACR publishes seven peer-reviewed scientific journals and a magazine for cancer survivors, patients and their caregivers. The AACR funds meritorious research directly as well as in cooperation with numerous cancer organizations. As the Scientific Partner of Stand Up To Cancer, the AACR provides expert peer review, grants administration and scientific oversight of individual and team science grants in cancer research that have the potential for patient benefit. The AACR actively communicates with legislators and policy makers about the value of cancer research and related biomedical science in saving lives from cancer.
Source: American Association for Cancer Research (AACR)