Health charity Diabetes UK is funding new research at Oxford University to determine whether the standard therapy metformin could significantly lower the risk of cancer developing in people with diabetes.

The Oxford University researchers will collate information from the “largest and best” clinical trials of metformin in the hope that it will point towards ways of addressing the increased cancer risk seen in diabetes patients, Diabetes UK said.

Previous studies have suggested that metformin taken by people with Type 2 diabetes as a first-line treatment after diet and exercise could lower the risk of cancer in this population by 30%, although these trials are not definitive, the charity noted.

“Our approach aims to provide solid evidence to validate these claims,” added Dr Richard Stevens, lead researcher at Oxford University. “It is hoped our findings will be able to help develop a means of tackling the increased risk of cancer, alongside the other complications of diabetes, while also shedding light on pathways and mechanisms for wider cancer research”.

Research has shown that people with Type 2 diabetes could have up to a 27% higher risk of developing cancer, in particular breast, colorectal, endometrial, liver and pancreatic cancers, Diabetes UK pointed out. Common risk factors associated with Type 2 diabetes, such as obesity and diet, may help to explain the effect, although it could also be down to raised blood glucose levels, the charity said.

“We know that good diabetes management can help to prevent the serious complications diabetes can lead to, such as heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, blindness and amputation,” commented Dr Iain Frame, director of research at Diabetes UK.

“However, while there are various approaches to minimise the effects diabetes can have on specific organs, little is known about what preventive measures can reduce the risk people with diabetes face of developing some forms of cancer.”