A drug normally used to treat heart disease may also double as a prostate cancer fighter.
Scientists at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore set out to screen a wide range of existing medications for potential anti-cancer properties. They discovered that digoxin significantly reduced the growth of prostate cancer cells in a lab dish.
They then looked at data from a continuing observational study of 47,000 men to see if patients who had been prescribed digoxin for heart problems were less likely to get prostate cancer. And, sure enough, the analysis revealed they had a 24-per-cent lower risk of developing a cancerous tumour in the male gland, compared with men not on the drug.
Digoxin is derived from the foxglove plant, which has been used for centuries as an ingredient in some traditional folk medicines. And, for decades, the prescription drug has been given to patients suffering from congestive heart failure and heart rhythm abnormalities.
Despite the promising results of this latest study, published this month in Cancer Discovery, the researchers won’t be recommending digoxin, in it’s current formulation, for the prevention of prostate cancer because it has a lot of side effects.
“This is not a drug you’d give to healthy people,” said the lead researcher Elizabeth Platz. It can cause nausea, headaches, vomiting and male breast enlargement.
She said the researchers need to figure how digoxin might be keeping prostate cancer at bay. Once that’s done, they may be able to develop a new drug that specifically targets prostate cancer – without digoxin’s usual side effects.