London: A diabetes drug costing just two pennies per tablet can also treat prostate cancer by slowing the growth of cancerous cells, a new research has claimed.
According to the research, the medicine, called metformin, causes tumours to shrink by slowing the rate at which the cancerous cells grow.
The finding has raised the possibility that men could benefit from the cheap, readily available drug as soon as they are diagnosed with the disease, provided the results are confirmed in bigger trials.
Doctors at the Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto, Canada, tested the drug on 22 men after they noticed that it stunted prostate cancer cell growth in laboratory experiments.
They were diagnosed with tumours and were due to undergo surgery to have their prostates removed. Each person took 500 mg of metformin three times a day for six weeks before the operation, during the time researchers measured the rate at which the tumour cells multiplied.
The results, presented at the recent American Association for Cancer Research annual meeting in Chicago, showed malignant cells grew at a significantly slower rate once the men were put on the drug, suggesting metformin might be able to keep tumours under control.
The findings support a 2009 study which found that men taking metformin every day to control their diabetes were up to 44 percent less likely to develop prostate cancer.
"We compared what the prostate cancer looked like when  it was first diagnosed to what it looked like when it was removed," said Dr Anthony Joshua, a cancer specialist who carried out the study.
"And although these are preliminary results, it appeared to reduce the growth rate of prostate cancer in a proportion of men," Joshua said.
Metformin works by reducing the amount of glucose produced by the liver and helping cells mop up sugar that is circulating in the bloodstream, preventing damage from excessive blood sugar levels.
At about 30 pounds per patient per year or just 6-8 pennies a day – it could be a highly cost-effective way to tackle prostate tumours.
Researchers around the world are investigating metformin's powers against skin, lung and pancreatic cancer, with promising early results.


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