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Diabetes drug slashes risk of breast cancer

A cheap and relatively safe diabetes drug, metformin, might have cancer-fighting properties, according to an international study -- but findings fall short of proving it actually can stave off cancer.

Researchers, whose findings were published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, found that women with diabetes who took the medication had a 25pc lower risk of developing breast cancer over more than a decade of follow-up.

"Metformin use in postmenopausal women with diabetes was associated with lower incidence of invasive breast cancer," wrote lead researcher Rowan Chlebowski, at the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute.

"These results can inform future studies evaluating metformin use in breast cancer management and prevention."

Metformin, also sold under the brand name Glucophage, has been on the market for many years and is generally considered safe, although five to 10pc of patients experience side effects like nausea and bloating.

It is used by millions of type- 2 diabetics every day to help control their blood sugar, and studies have shown it also shrinks lung and breast tumours in mice. Several reports show people taking it for diabetes appear to develop cancer less often.

The new study used data from about 68,000 postmenopausal women who took part in the US government-funded clinical trials.

Diabetics on metformin turned out to have a 25pc lower cancer risk than their diabetes-free peers.

"This is an area of great excitement," said Pamela Goodwin, a breast cancer expert at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, Canada.

"The evidence is coming together that metformin may actually have a clinically-relevant effect, but none of this is good enough to chance clinical practice just yet."