Common cough medicine ingredient can treat prostate cancer

December 20th, 2008 - 3:38 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Dec 20 (IANS) Something as commonplace as a cough medicine has an ingredient that could effectively treat advanced prostate cancer.Researchers found that noscapine, used in cough medication for nearly 50 years, reduced tumour growth in mice by 60 percent and limited their spread by 65 percent without adverse side-effects.

Noscapine has previously been studied as a treatment for breast, ovarian, colon, lung and brain cancer and for various lymphomas, chronic lymphocytic leukaemia and melanoma. This study, however, is the first to demonstrate its effectiveness in treating prostate cancer.

American Cancer Society estimates that 186,320 men in the US will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2008 and 28,660 will die from it.

One man in six will get prostate cancer during his lifetime. Although slow-growing in most men, the cancer is considered advanced when it spreads beyond the prostate. There is no known cure.

Hormone therapy and chemotherapy, along with radiation and surgery, are currently used to slow the progression of advanced prostate cancer.

Side effects resulting from these treatments include impotence, incontinence, fatigue, anaemia, brittle bones, hair loss, reduced appetite, nausea and diarrhoea. No toxic side effects were observed in the laboratory study of noscapine.

The lab study was a joint effort by Israel Barken of the Prostate Cancer Research and Educational Foundation, Moshe Rogosnitzky of MedInsight Research Institute and Jack Geller of University of California, San Diego (UCSD).

Noscapine is a naturally-occurring substance, a non-addictive derivative of opium. As a natural substance, noscapine cannot be patented, which has limited the potential for clinical trials.

Rogosnitzky notes that drug companies are generally unwilling to underwrite expensive clinical trials without being able to recoup their investment. A synthetic derivative of noscapine has been patented but has not yet reached the clinical testing phase.

Since noscapine is approved for use in many countries as a cough suppressant, however, it is available to doctors to prescribe for other uses as well. This common practice is known as “off-label” prescription.

Noscapine is increasingly being used off-label to treat a variety of cancers. Barken used noscapine to treat a handful of prostate cancer patients before retiring from clinical practice, said an UCSD release.

These findings were published Friday in the December issue of the European medical journal of Anticancer Research.

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