Did you know that there are medications other than chemotherapy which have shown promise as anticancer agents? Such medications were approved for a non-cancer indication, but found in subsequent research to target cancer cells in a unique way.
In an effort to target cancer as thoroughly as possible, we willingly utilize some of these medications in our treatment protocols. Because they are not FDA approved to treat cancer, we are using them in repurposed fashion. Repurposing medications entails using them in “off-label” fashion for a use which is separate from its FDA approved indication.
The use of prescription medications in off-label fashion is an approved practice, left to the discretion of physicians. The use of medications in this way is a common occurrence, although unfortunately not common enough as it relates to cancer treatment today. In our office, we take seriously the recommendation for patients to take prescription medications, carefully weighing the potential benefits with the possible risks. We make every attempt to ensure that any medication we add to the protocol is as safe as possible. The advantage we have with these medications is that they have been used for years, if not decades, in one form or another, and we thus have significant knowledge of their actions and potential side effects.
Below are some examples of repurposed medications which can be used in the cancer treatment setting. Please note that the medications listed here are not necessarily part of our protocols, and are not intended to be an endorsement of their use. Rather, they are included here to illustrate the fact that common medications have been found to have possible anticancer applications as well. Needless to say, this is an emerging area of research.
Today, we typically associate aspirin with its cardiovascular benefits. However, many people don’t know that it is also an anti-cancer drug. A recent study evaluated all existing evidence for low dose aspirin (81 mg) in the treatment of cancer, and concluded that it could increase survival by up to 20% and significantly reduce metastases.
Cimetidine (brand name Tagamet) is commonly used to treat gastroesophageal reflux disease and peptic ulcers. It blocks one of the histamine receptors known as H2. Cimetidine has been shown to have anti-tumor activity in the treatment of colorectal and kidney cancer, and melanoma, among others. Research has uncovered its ability to slow cancer cell proliferation, while also inhibiting cell adhesion.
Doxycycline is an antibiotic which has been used for more 50 years to treat bacterial infections. There are several key actions of doxycycline which are of interest, including inhibiting matrix metalloproteinases, killing cancer stem cells, and making CSCs more susceptible to damage in radiation therapy.
Itraconazole is an anti-fungal drug commonly used to treat a wide variety of fungal infections. In addition to killing fungus in the body, it has also been shown to have an anti-cancer effect. However, because it is an anti-fungal drug, we must be intentional about protecting gut health. Antifungal agents can inadvertently kill the good bacteria in the digestive tract.
Naltrexone inhibits two key substances: beta-endorphin and metenkephalin. By inhibiting these, the immune system is stimulated in a beneficial way. From an anti-cancer perspective, low-dose naltrexone seems to increase the number of natural killer cells, which are important components of the immune system response and often are deficient in cancer patients.
Metformin (generic name Glucophage) is helpful in improving blood sugar control. There are several mechanisms for Metformin’s anti-cancer effect, the most prominent of which is its inhibition of what is known as the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) pathway. The mTOR pathway is a major player in cancer cell growth, spread, and survival. Disrupt the mTOR pathway, and we stand a greater chance of slowing down cancer.
Omeprazole (brand name Prilosec) is the most commonly used drug to reduce stomach acid. In addition, it has been shown to have an anti-cancer effect. Omeprazole blocks one of the acid pumps on cancer cells, known as vacuolar-type hydrogen ATPase. In addition, omeprazole has also been shown to have an anti-proliferative effect (reduces) the ability of cancer to spread. Also, research has shown omeprazole blocks a key protein which allows cancer to avoid programmed cell death.
Propranolol is a drug used to treat high blood pressure. It — as well as several other beta blockers — have been shown to have an anti-cancer effect. Epidemiological studies on men taking drugs for high blood pressure found that those taking beta blockers had a lower risk of developing prostate cancer. Further studies found that cancer patients taking a beta blocker have a lower risk of cancer death.