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Long-term use of metformin and the molecular subtype in invasive breast carcinoma patients – a retrospective study of clinical and tumor characteristics

Nikola Besic1*, Nika Satej2, Ivica Ratosa1, Andreja Gojkovic Horvat1, Tanja Marinko1, Barbara Gazic1 and Rok Petric1

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Oncology Ljubljana, Zaloska 2, 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia

2 Community Health Centre Ljubljana, Krziceva 10, 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia

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BMC Cancer 2014, 14:298  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-14-298

Published: 28 April 2014



Metformin may exhibit inhibitory effects on cancer cells by inhibiting mTOR signaling pathway. The aim of our retrospective study was to examine if patients with breast carcinoma (BC) and diabetes mellitus (DM) receiving metformin have a lower stage of carcinoma in comparison to patients not receiving metformin, and if the use of metformin correlates with the molecular subtype of BC.


A chart review of 253 patients with invasive BC and DM (128 on metformin and 125 not on metformin) was performed. Control group consisted of 320 consecutive patients with invasive BC without DM. BC subtypes were classified by immunohistochemical surrogates as luminal A (estrogen receptor [ER] + and/or progesterone receptor [PR]+, HER-2-), luminal B (ER + and/or PR+, HER-2+), HER-2 (ER-, PR-, HER-2+), triple-negative/basal (ER-, PR-, HER-2-).


Patients on metformin had a lower proportion of T3 or T4 tumors than patients who were not receiving metformin (16% vs. 26%; p = 0.035). No statistical difference was found between the two study groups in N stage. Patients with DM on metformin, with DM not on metformin and the control group had different molecular subtypes of BC (p = 0.01): the luminal A subtype was found in 78%, 83% and 71%, the luminal B in 12.6%, 9% and 11%, HER-2 in 0.8%, 1.6% and 8%, and the triple-negative/basal-like subtype in 8.6%, 6.4% and 10%, respectively.


Our data indicate that long-term use of metformin use correlates with molecular subtype of BC in diabetics on metformin in comparison to diabetics not on metformin and patients without DM. However, most likely, different distribution of the molecular subtypes of BC in these three groups of patients was caused by other risk factors for breast carcinoma, such as age of patients or obesity.

Breast carcinoma; Diabetes mellitus; Prognosis; Metformin