Metformin and cancer in type 2 diabetes: a systematic review and comprehensive bias evaluation.

Farmer, R.E. ; Ford, D. ; Forbes, H.J. ; Chaturvedi, N. ; Kaplan, R. ; Smeeth, L. ; Bhaskaran, K. ;
Metformin and cancer in type 2 diabetes: a systematic review and comprehensive bias evaluation.
Int J Epidemiol, 2016;

Existing observational studies provide conflicting evidence for the causal effect of metformin use on cancer risk in patients with type-2 diabetes, and there are concerns about bias affecting a number of studies.

MEDLINE was used to identify observational studies investigating the association between metformin and overall or site-specific cancer in people with type-2 diabetes. A systematic data extraction and bias assessment was conducted, in which risk of eight bias domains (outcome, exposure, control selection, baseline confounding, time-dependent confounding, immortal time, missing data, censoring methods) were assessed against pre-defined criteria, and rated as unlikely, low, medium or high.

Of 46 studies identified, 21 assessed the effect of metformin on all cancer. Reported relative risks ranged from 0.23 to 1.36, with 10/21 reporting a statistically significant protective effect and two a harmful effect. The range of estimates was similar for site-specific cancers; 3/46 studies were rated as low or unlikely risk of bias in all domains. Two of these had results consistent with no effect of metformin; one observed a moderate protective effect overall, but presented further analyses that the authors concluded were inconsistent with causality. However, 28/46 studies were at risk from bias through exposure definition, 22 through insufficient baseline adjustment and 35 from possible time-dependent confounding.

Observational studies on metformin and cancer varied in design, and the majority were at risk of a range of biases. The studies least likely to be affected by bias did not support a causal effect of metformin on cancer risk.