Early Study Promising for Safe, Cheap Treatment to Prevent Cancer Metastases

By Hamodia Staff

A view of the campus of Tel Aviv University. (Neukoln)

YERUSHALAYIM — A short, simple and safe drug treatment developed at Tel Aviv University reduced the risk of the spread of cancer metastases after surgery to remove the primary tumor – in the first clinical study of its kind.

The study was conducted among 34 colon cancer patients operated on at Sheba Tel Hashomer Medical Center.

Although surgery to remove primary tumors is the mainstay of all cancer treatments, the risk of metastases after tumor removal is estimated at 35% among colon cancer patients, with higher risk in patients with more advanced stages of the disease.

TAU’s Prof. Shamgar Ben-Eliyahu said: “The stress during the waiting period for surgery, the stress and inflammatory reactions that the body produces during the surgery itself, and the physical recovery ability to fight metastatic processes, and then the anxiety of cancer recurring — all have an adverse effect on the body. These mental and physiological conditions create stress-inflammatory responses, which cause ample release of hormones from the prostaglandin and catecholamine families. These hormones suppress anti-metastatic immune activity, and thus encourage the development of metastases. In addition, these hormones directly help the cancer cells that remain in the body even after surgery. Due to exposure to these hormones, the cancerous tissue becomes more aggressive and metastatic.

“The good news is that we know how to treat both stress and inflammation using off-the-shelf medications.”

The researchers gave the patients two drugs that are available in every pharmacy: propranolol (Darlin), used to lower blood pressure and reduce anxiety, and etodolac (Etopan), used to prevent pain and inflammation. Sixteen randomly chosen patients took the medication for 20 days — from five days before to two weeks after surgery at the Sheba Medical Center. The other 18 patients received placebo drugs (control group).

Five years later, nine of the 18 patients who received the placebo developed cancer metastases, compared to two of the 16 patients who took Darlin and Etofen.

Prof. Ben-Eliyahu acknowledged that part of the medical establishment distrusts the effects of stress-inflammatory reactions, particularly those resulting from psychological factors such as waiting for surgery or fear of the disease spreading. Another problem concerns the financing of clinical studies.

“One should bear in mind that the pharmaceutical companies have no financial incentive to support such studies. Our medicines are not patented; they are cheap and administered in a short treatment lasting just a few days.

“The drug companies look for patents on expensive drugs, and prefer that the patient be dependent on the drug for the rest of their life. Unfortunately, the major science foundations in Israel do not fund clinical research on drugs, assuming that the drug companies will fund them.

“We seek to save lives without financial gain, and we have received financial support from several Israeli and international sources, but these are insufficient for large clinical studies. I hope that funding will be found for a large-scale clinical study that we have now embarked on, with the intention of recruiting hundreds of cancer patients in Israel, because without such research, we will not be able to convince the medical establishment of the treatment’s effectiveness.”

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