Diabetes drug may help ovarian cancer sufferers

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(CBS News) Doctors say ovarian cancer is one of the deadliest forms of the disease for women. The American Cancer Society says more than 22,000 cases will be diagnosed this year.

A new study published in the journal Cancer finds that a common diabetes medication called Metformin may be used in the prevention or treatment of ovarian cancer.

The study demonstrated that one of the most commonly prescribed drugs for diabetes, Metformin, can impact a woman's survival when she's been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, Dr. Elizabeth Poynor, a gynecologist and cancer specialist explained on "CBS This Morning." The study showed that women who had ovarian cancer who took Metformin for diabetes actually had a 20 percent better survival rate from the disease than women who did not take Metformin.

Poynor said it's not yet known why this is the case. "The study actually begs to begin to answer mechanistic questions," she said. "...It doesn't show a cause but an association. When we have observational studies like this -- or retrospective studies looking backwards -- where we can identify associations then we can begin to look is there a cause and effect if women take Metformin with ovarian cancer will they then have a better improved survival."

The drug may actually have application for other cancers as well, according to Poynor. "At a recent national conference on cancer research there were more than 20 studies looking at Metformin with different cancers, such as prostate cancer, pancreas cancer, colon and breast cancer. It may have widespread implications to many different types of malignancies."

Metformin, Poynor explained, inhibits the production of glucose by the liver, but may have direct actions on a cancer cells, as well. "If we look at cancer cells in a petri dish that have Metformin placed on them...the cancer cells in the petri dish are inhibited from growing. ... So this is actually a great demonstration of a drug which may have different effects in which it was originally used for."

For more on this study, watch Poynor's full "CTM" interview in the video above.