Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

The effect of metformin and thiazolidinedione use on lung cancer in diabetics

Peter J Mazzone1*, Hardeep Rai2, Mary Beukemann1, Meng Xu3, Anil Jain4 and Madhu Sasidhar1

Author Affiliations

1 Respiratory Institute, The Cleveland Clinic, 9500 Euclid Ave., A90, Cleveland, OH, 44195, USA

2 Northside Medical Center, Youngstown, OH, USA

3 Quantitative Health Sciences, The Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland, USA

4 Department of Internal Medicine, Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland, OH, USA

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Cancer 2012, 12:410  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-12-410

Published: 14 September 2012



Metformin and the thiazolidinediones (TZDs) may have a protective effect against the development of lung cancer.


Patients with diabetes mellitus (DM) were identified from the electronic medical records of the Cleveland Clinic. Diabetics with lung cancer were identified then verified by direct review of their records. Control subjects were matched with cancer subjects 1:1 by date of birth, sex, and smoking history. The frequency and duration of diabetic medication use was compared between the groups. The cancer characteristics were compared between those with lung cancer who had and had not been using metformin and/or a TZD.


93,939 patients were identified as having DM. 522 lung cancers in 507 patients were confirmed. The matched control group was more likely to have used metformin and/or a TZD (61.0% vs. 41.2%, p < 0.001 for any use; 55.5% vs. 24.6%, p < 0.001 for >24 months vs. 0–12 months). In the group with lung cancer, those who had used metformin alone had a different histology distribution than those who received neither metformin nor a TZD, were more likely to present with metastatic disease (40.8% vs. 28.2%, p = 0.013), and had a shorter survival from the time of diagnosis (HR 1.47, p < 0.005).


The use of metformin and/or the TZDs is associated with a lower likelihood of developing lung cancer in diabetic patients. Diabetics who develop lung cancer while receiving metformin may have a more aggressive cancer phenotype.

Lung cancer; Diabetes; Metformin; Thiazolidinediones