Off-Label Medications Often
Used In Cancer Treatment
Over the past 12 years, I have supported a significant number of cancer patients in our clinic. The work moved me so much that in 2013 I started a 2 year fellowship in Integrative Cancer Therapy, which is the only alternative cancer fellowship endorsed by the AMA. This is a big deal because it's recognized by most physicians and oncologists and gave me a tremendous amount of research and support to help our cancer patients who were looking for a better approach than the typical poison, burn and cut approach of chemotherapy, radiation and surgery which follows so many standard of care cancer treatments.
In my clinic, I utilize very specific nutritional and dietary guidelines to help our cancer patients integratively or alternatively. We also utilize supplementation to help to support the body naturally, providing foundational organ and metabolic support and specific immune and cancer support to help the patient's own body work to heal themselves.
Today, I wanted to talk about the fact that not all medicine is bad. We think of chemotherapy as something that either kills us or kills the cancer, but what most of us don't realize is there are a large number of medications other than chemotherapy drugs which have shown promise as anticancer agents.
Such medications are approved for non-cancer indications, but have been found in research to target cancer cells in unique ways. These are called off-label medications.
I often recommend my patients utilize these medications in there treatment protocols and routinely work with medical providers to ensure the right medications are recommended for the right condition.
Because they are not FDA approved to treat a patient's cancer, they are being used off-label, which is separate from it's FDA approved indication. The use of prescription medications in an off-label purpose is an accepted practice left to the doctor and patient to discuss and agree upon.
The use of medications as off-label is actually quite common, although not common enough for cancer treatment in mainstream oncology. A discussion of potential benefits versus patient risks is always something to have with both our office when providing information about a treatment option and with your prescribing physician.
Below are several examples of off-label medications which can be used in cancer treatments today. Please note some of the medications are not necessarily recommended by our providers, and all treatments are not for all cancers or health problems. This is simply here to provide information about how various off-label pharmaceuticals can be used to help anti-cancer treatments.
Cimetidine (brand name Tagamet) is commonly used to treat gastroesophageal reflux disease and peptic ulcers. It blocks a histamine receptor known as H2. Cimetidine has been shown to have anti-tumor activity in the treatment of colorectal and kidney cancer, and melanoma, among others. Research has uncovered its ability to slow cancer cell proliferation, while also inhibiting cell adhesion. It has potential to bind to circulating tumor cells and possibly influence metastasis risk.
Doxycycline is an antibiotic which has been used for more than 50 years to treat bacterial infections. There are several key actions of doxycycline which are of interest, including inhibiting matrix metalloproteinases, killing cancer stem cells (CSCs), and making CSCs more susceptible to damage in radiation therapy.
Itraconazole is an anti-fungal drug commonly used to treat a wide variety of fungal infections. In addition to killing fungus in the body, it has also been shown to have an anti-cancer effect. However, because it is an anti-fungal drug, we must be intentional about protecting gut health. Antifungal agents can inadvertently kill the good bacteria in the digestive tract.
Naltrexone inhibits two key substances: beta-endorphin and metenkephalin. By inhibiting these, the immune system is stimulated in a beneficial way. From an anti-cancer perspective, low-dose naltrexone seems to increase the number of natural killer cells, which are important components of the immune system response and often are deficient in cancer patients.
Metformin (generic name Glucophage) is helpful in improving blood sugar control. There are several mechanisms for Metformin's anti-cancer effect, the most prominent of which is its inhibition of what is known as the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) pathway. The mTOR pathway is a major player in cancer cell growth, spread, and survival. Disrupt the mTOR pathway, and we stand a greater chance of slowing down cancer.
Omeprazole (brand name Prilosec) is the most commonly used drug to reduce stomach acid. In addition, it has been shown to have an anti-cancer effect. Omeprazole blocks one of the acid pumps on cancer cells, known as vacuolar-type hydrogen ATPase. In addition, omeprazole has also been shown to have an anti-proliferative effect (reduces) the ability of cancer to spread. Also, research has shown omeprazole blocks a key protein which allows cancer to avoid programmed cell death.
Propranolol is a drug used to treat high blood pressure. It - as well as several other beta blockers - have been shown to have an anti-cancer effect. Epidemiological studies on men taking drugs for high blood pressure found that those taking beta blockers had a lower risk of developing prostate cancer. Further studies found that cancer patients taking a beta blocker have a lower risk of cancer death.