DRUGS which are commonly used to treat tens of millions of men for erectile dysfunction could also help boost cancer survival rates.
Researchers have discovered that phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE5), a chemical found in Viagra, can help to shrink tumours found in the oesophagus.
Oesophageal cancer has much poorer outcomes and treatment options compared to other cancers[/caption]
The little blue pill can even make chemotherapy more effective in those who are resistant to the treatment.
It is hoped that the drug will also help kill other cancers.
There are around 7,900 oesophageal cancer deaths in the UK each year – that’s 22 deaths every day.
Those who develop the cancer only have around a 20 per cent chance of survival beyond five years.
Oesophageal cancer affects the food pipe that connects your mouth to your stomach.
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Currently this disease has much poorer outcomes and treatment options compared to other cancers.
Part of the reason for this is the cancer can be resistant to chemotherapy, lead author, Professor Tim Underwood, of the University of Southampton explained.
Around 80 per cent of people who have the cancer do not respond to chemo, previous research has found.
“Finding a drug, which is already safely prescribed to people every day, could be a great step forward in tackling this hard-to-treat disease,” Prof Tim explained.
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The drug works by relaxing cells which can sometimes protect cancer cells – which happens in those for whom chemo doesn’t work.
PDE5 relax the structure of the protective cells, so that they become floppy, meaning they can no longer help the tumour to thrive and grow.
When the Southampton team tested PDE5 inhibitor drugs on cancer cells in the lab and on mice, they found that chemotherapy was then effective in 75 per of cases.
This is compared with the usual 20 per cent of oesophageal cancer patients.
What are esophageal cancer symptoms?
Some of the main symptoms of esophageal cancer are weight loss and difficulty swallowing.
An extended list of possible symptoms include:
- Pain behind the breastbone
- A hoarse cough
- Indigestion and heartburn
- A lump under the skin
The research, published in Cell Reports Medicine, is still in its early stages, but the team hope to start human trials soon.
If successful, this treatment could be helping as many as 9300 people a year diagnosed with oesophageal cancer.
Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said: “Developing new drugs for cancer is incredibly important, but doing so from scratch is a challenging process, and many fail along the way.
“We’ve also been keen to explore whether existing drugs, licensed for other diseases, can be effective in treating cancer.
“If these turn out to be successful treatments, they will also prove to be more affordable and become available to patients quicker,” she explained.
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“Progress in treatment for oesophageal cancer over the last 40 years has seen only limited improvement, which is why we’ve made it a research priority.
“We’re looking forward to seeing how the combined treatment of PDE5 inhibitors with chemotherapy performs in clinical trials,” she added.