Could cheap cold drug be a secret weapon against cancer?

A new study involving a common cold drug may have revealed a new bladder cancer treatment pathway that may prolong or save lives.

Bladder cancer kills over 5,000 a year in the UK, with a 50% survival rate at diagnosis. Hallmark symptoms, such as blood in the urine, usually occur late and signify advanced disease. As diagnosis improves, we can catch this cancer earlier.

A new study may have revealed a new treatment pathway that may prolong or save lives. Ideally this treatment would be used alongside conventional chemotherapy.

Japanese researchers have discovered that the use of a little-used non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) flufenamic acid, both inhibits cell spread (metastasis) and resistance to chemotherapy in mouse trials. The mechanism of action is proposed to be inhibition of the 'cancer enzyme' AKR1C1, which is known to be involved in metastatic disease. Simply put, the medicine puts the breaks on the enzyme, reducing the rate of cancer spread and resistance.

Chemotherapy works by inhibiting cell activity by a variety of mechanisms and by interrupting different energy pathways. Over time cancerous cells will develop resistance due to the natural variation in use of such pathways afforded by genetics. These 'resistant' cells then become dominant, and 'recurrence' is seen. Flufenamic acid is just one example of how slowing this process may slow cancers down and let chemotherapy work for longer.

"The study could pave the way for medical institutions to use flufenamic acid which has unexpectedly been proven to be effective at fighting cancers," said Shinya Tanka of Hokkaido University. Although the study is in mice, there is a commonality between mouse and human biology. Often mouse studies pave the way for human. The potential is unprecedented.

Japan has a special relationship with the cancer, which disproportionally affects its population. The reason is unclear, but older age may play a role.

Regardless, the findings of this study have exciting treatment prospects for a disease often caught too late. Used alongside conventional chemotherapy, it may prolong or improve treatment, which in turn may improve survival time.

Any opinions above are the author's alone. Guidance is based on the best available evidence at the time of writing. All data is based on externally validated studies unless expressed otherwise. Novel data is representative of sample surveyed. Online recommendation is no substitute for seeing your own doctor and should not be taken as medical advice.

Sources and further reading

1) http://www.nature.com/articles/srep34625

2) https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/flufenamic_acid

3) https://www.oia.hokudai.ac.jp/blog/cold-medicine-could-stop-cancer-spread/

4) http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/cancer-spread-stopped-common-cold-medicine-scientists-discover-japan-study-bladder-a7367741.html

5) https://www.mycancergenome.org/content/molecular-medicine/pathways/cytotoxic-chemotherapy-mechanisms-of-action

6) https://www.auanet.org/university/abstract_detail.cfm?id=MP45-01&meetingID=15NOLA

7) http://chemocare.com/chemotherapy/what-is-chemotherapy/what-is-drug-resistance.aspx

8) http://en.yibada.com/articles/167969/20161017/little-used-cold-medicine-potential-help-stop-cancer-spread.htm

9) http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/health-professional/cancer-statistics/statistics-by-cancer-type/bladder-cancer

10) http://bit.ly/2eoXn89 

11) http://patient.info/health/bladder-cancer-leaflet

Image by
José Eugenio Gómez Rodríguez - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link