Protective Effect of Metformin Against Thyroid Cancer Development: A Population-Based Study in Korea

Yoon Young Cho, Min Jin Kang, Soo Kyoung Kim, Jung Hwa Jung, Jong Ryeal Hahm, Tae Hyuk Kim, Joo Young Nam, Byung Wan Lee, Yong Ho Lee, Jae Hoon Chung, Sun Ok Song, Sun Wook Kim

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30 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Metformin, the most widely used drug for type 2 diabetes, has recently attracted attention with regard to its antitumor activity. However, clinical studies have yielded conflicting results regarding the association between metformin and thyroid cancer development, despite its antitumor effect in preclinical studies. Methods: This is a retrospective cohort study using the Korean National Health Insurance claim database. Matched populations of 128,453 metformin users and 128,453 non-users were analyzed for thyroid cancer incidence. Metformin users were categorized into lowest, middle, and highest tertiles according to cumulative dose or duration of metformin therapy. Results: Thyroid cancer developed in 340 (0.26%) metformin users and 487 (0.38%) non-users during a mean follow-up of 7.2 years (hazard ratio = 0.69 [confidence interval 0.60-0.79]; p < 0.001). The incidence of thyroid cancer per 10 5 person-years was 51.6 in metformin non-users. For metformin users, the incidence was 84.5 for <529,000 mg, 20.6 for 529,000-1,007,799 mg, and 6.3 for >1,007,799 mg; 86.3 for <1085 days, 20.3 for 1085-2094 days, and 4.7 for >2094 days for duration of therapy. The hazard ratio for thyroid cancer decreased significantly in metformin users as a function of dose and duration of metformin therapy. Conclusions: Metformin appears to be associated with a preventive effect on thyroid cancer development in a nationwide population-based study, but is not effective in the early phase of treatment. Considering the increasing prevalence of obesity and the role of insulin resistance in the development of cancer, metformin might be the preferred treatment for its dual anti-diabetic and antitumor effects.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)864-870
Number of pages7
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Jul

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was supported by a grant from the National Health Insurance Service Policy Research (2016-20-011). The funding source was not involved in oversight or design of the study, in the analysis or interpretation of the data, or in the decision to submit the manuscript for publication.

Publisher Copyright:
© Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. 2018.

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Endocrinology


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