These Older, Common Drugs Could Help Fight Cancer, New Study Says

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The fight against cancer is one of the most important medical initiatives of our time, and almost weekly, it seems, some new therapy or freshly created medication is proposed as a possible weapon in the battle against this multifaceted and often deadly complex of diseases.

There is increasing evidence, though, that some older drugs, far less expensive than the newer state-of-the-art options, might have beneficial effects for cancer patients, too.

Chief among these is metformin, a compound first discovered in 1922, though not approved for use in the U.S. until 1995. That use had nothing to do with cancer, however. Metformin was — and still is — primarily an anti-diabetes medication, used to stop overproduction of glucose in the liver.

That notwithstanding, according to the U.S. government’s National Center for Biotechnology Information, there have been almost 4,500 studies of the possible effects of the drug on cancer since the 1980s. One such study, published in the journal Oncology Letters, reported that “[P]atients with T2DM [type 2 diabetes] have a lower incidence of tumor development than healthy controls and that patients diagnosed with cancer have a lower risk of mortality when treated with metformin….”

This and other studies stress, however, that the exact mechanism by which the drug works against cancer is not yet understood and that much further research needs to be done. One day, perhaps, it will prove to be an effective tool in combating some of the more than 1 million new cancer diagnoses each year, with these being the most common types of cancer in men and women.

The problem for now, pharmaceutical scientist Dr. Robin Bannister — who prescribes metformin along with more conventional chemotherapy to cancer patients — told England’s Daily Mail recently, is that pharmaceutical companies aren’t particularly interested in examining metformin’s possibilities. “If all you are going to do is increase sales of a cheap drug,” he said, “no one is motivated to do that.” This may be the case even though more than 600,000 people died from the disease last year and many are living with it today. The exact numbers vary across the United States, however – this is how many people are living with cancer in every state.

Metformin isn’t the only older drug with cancer-fighting possibilities. Cancer Research UK, reports the Daily Mail, is testing aspirin as an agent to inhibit the proliferation of diseased cells.

Rosoxacin, an antibiotic used to treat bacterial infection of the urinary and respiratory tracts, among other things, is also being looked at, as is the anti-fungal agent clinoquinol. Interestingly, another drug, the notorious thalidomide — which was prescribed in the 1950s as a sedative and aid for morning sickness but was proven to cause birth defects and removed from the market — has been revived in recent years to help fight cancer of the blood.