Conference Coverage

Metformin does not improve outcomes in early breast cancer



Adjuvant treatment with metformin did not improve outcomes in most patients with early breast cancer, according to new findings from a randomized controlled trial.

In the primary analysis, the addition of metformin to standard therapy in moderate/high-risk hormone receptor positive or negative breast cancer did not improve invasive disease–free survival (IDFS), overall survival, or other breast outcomes, explained lead author Pamela J. Goodwin, MD, FRCPC, professor of medicine at the University of Toronto. “Metformin should not be used as breast cancer treatment in this population.”

However, an exploratory analysis suggested that metformin may have a beneficial effect in women with HER2-positive breast cancer, Dr. Goodwin noted.

In this subset, IDFS was improved in patients who received metformin (hazard ratio, 0.64; P = .03), as was overall survival (HR, 0.53; P = .04).

The findings were presented at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium.

“This trial arose from the observation that obesity is associated with poor breast cancer outcomes, and insulin levels are higher in obesity and may be more strongly associated with breast cancer outcomes than obesity,” said Dr. Goodwin.

Metformin was used because of its ability to promote modest weight loss and lower insulin by about 15%-20% in nondiabetic breast cancer survivors. It has also shown anticancer effects in preclinical studies. “In some window of opportunity neoadjuvant studies, it has been shown to reduce Ki67 in breast cancer cells,” she said. “And in preclinical in vitro and in vivo research, it slows growth of breast cancer.”

In addition, emerging evidence from observational studies suggests that the use of metformin to treat diabetes in breast cancer patients may be associated with better outcomes, strengthening the rationale for the study.

The negative results in breast cancer follow recent reports of negative findings in lung cancer, when metformin was found to be ineffective when used alongside chemotherapy in locally advanced lung cancer, as reported by this news organization.

No benefit seen

Metformin was compared to placebo in the phase 3 CCTG MA.32 trial, conducted in 3,649 patients aged 18-74 years with T1-3 N0-3 M0 breast cancer. All patients were treated with standard therapy and were randomized to receive metformin 850 mg twice daily for 5 years or placebo.

In 2016, “futility was declared in ER/PR-negative patients” after a second interim analysis conducted at 29.6 months’ median follow-up, Dr. Goodwin noted. The intervention was stopped in that group, although blinding and follow-up continued.

After that, the study’s primary analysis focused on the 2,533 ER/PR-positive patients (mean age, 52.7 years; mean body mass index, 28.8; approx. 60% postmenopausal).

Just over half of these patients had T2 tumor stage, and most disease was grade 2 or 3.

In addition, 16.5% (of metformin) and 17.4% (of placebo) patients had HER2-positive disease, with the majority (97%) of all HER2 patients receiving trastuzumab.

There was no difference between the two groups in IDFS events, occurring in 18.5% of patients receiving metformin and 18.3% who received placebo, with most (75.6%) events due to breast cancer (HR, 1.01; P = .92).

There were 131 deaths in the metformin arm and 119 in the placebo arm, with most (75.8%) of the deaths related to breast cancer (HR, 1.10; P = .47).

Other breast cancer outcomes had similar results, including distant disease-free survival (HR, 0.99; P = .94) and breast cancer–free interval (HR, 0.98; P = .87), both of which showed no advantage for metformin.


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