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BMJ Open Diabetes Res Care. 2019 Dec 29;7(1):e000872. doi: 10.1136/bmjdrc-2019-000872. eCollection 2019.

Impact of glycemic traits, type 2 diabetes and metformin use on breast and prostate cancer risk: a Mendelian randomization study.

Author information

School of Public Health, LKS Faculty of Medicine, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong SAR, China.
Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy, City University of New York, New York City, New York, USA.



Observational studies suggest glycemic traits and type 2 diabetes are positively associated, and metformin inversely associated with breast and prostate cancer risk. However, observational studies are susceptible to unmeasured confounding while studies of metformin use are also vulnerable to immortal time bias. The use of Mendelian randomization may reduce confounding due to random allocation of relevant genetic markers at birth, and may reduce immortal time bias (for metformin-related variants analysis) since the start of exposure is at birth.

Research design and methods:

We identified strong genetic predictors of fasting glucose, glycated hemoglobin, and type 2 diabetes from the Meta-Analyses of Glucose and Insulin-related traits Consortium and Diabetes Genetics Replication And Meta-analysis Consortium (n=140 595 for glucose; n=123 665 for HbA1c; n=898 130 for type 2 diabetes) and of AMPK-instrumented HbA1c reduction as a proxy of metformin and applied them to large genome-wide association studies of breast cancer (Breast Cancer Association Consortium; BCAC) and prostate cancer (Prostate Cancer Association Group to Investigate Cancer-Associated Alterations in the Genome; PRACTICAL). We used inverse variance weighting to obtain estimates. Sensitivity analyses included use of MR-Egger, weighted median, exclusion of pleiotropic instruments, and validation using UK Biobank (breast cancer only).


There was no association of fasting glucose (OR 1.03 per mmol/L, 95% CI 0.85 to 1.25), HbA1c (OR 1.02 per %, 95% CI 0.73 to 1.45), or type 2 diabetes (OR 0.98 per log odds, 95% CI 0.95 to 1.01) with breast cancer in BCAC, with similar findings from UK Biobank. There was no association of fasting glucose (OR 0.93 per mmol/L, 95% CI 0.73 to 1.17), HbA1c (OR 0.90 per %, 95% CI 0.58 to 1.40) or type 2 diabetes (OR 1.02 per log odds, 95% CI 0.97 to 1.07) with prostate cancer in PRACTICAL. No strong evidence was observed for AMPK-instrumented HbA1c reduction on cancer risk.


Glycemic traits and type 2 diabetes unlikely cause breast and prostate cancer. Whether metformin can be repurposed for cancer prevention remains unclear.


HbA1c hemoglobin; cancer; genetics; glucose

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