Cough medicine ingredient may treat prostate cancer

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Noscapine, a natural substance found in cough medicine, may prove useful in treating advanced prostate cancer, according to studies in mice.

Researchers found that noscapine — a non-addictive derivative of opium — reduced tumor growth in mice by 60 percent and limited the spread of tumors by 65 percent without causing harmful side effects.

Dr. Israel Barken, of The Prostate Cancer Research and Education Foundation, La Mesa, California, and colleagues report their finding in the journal Anticancer Research.

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer among men in the United States. According to the American Cancer Society, one man in six will get prostate cancer during his lifetime.

Noscapine has previously been studied as a treatment for breast, ovarian, colon, lung and brain cancer and for various lymphomas, chronic lymphocytic leukemia and melanoma. The current study, however, is the first to demonstrate its potential as a treatment for prostate cancer.

The research team examined the effect of noscapine in 20 mice inoculated with human prostate cancer cells. One group of 10 animals was treated daily with orally administered noscapine diluted in water and the other group was given plain water (control). The treatments were continued for 56 days.

When the animals were sacrificed, researchers found that the tumors from the noscapine-fed animals weighed significantly less than the tumors from the animals fed plain water (0.42 grams versus 0.97 grams). Prostate cancer was also led apt to spread in the noscapine group compared with the control group (30 percent versus 90 percent.

No significant toxicity was observed with noscapine.

These findings, the researchers say, suggest that noscapine “may be a potential therapeutic agent for safe and efficacious treatment of prostate cancer in humans and a desirable alternative to currently used therapeutic agents that have serious side effects.”

SOURCE: Anticancer Research, December 2008.

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