Every week a new cancer treatment hits the headlines. Immunotherapy drugs, which recruit the body's own immune system to fight disease, are the latest rage. Although they improve survival rates, they come at a high price. The yearly cost of some the most recent drugs can top $250,000 a year.
Surprisingly, successful treatments may already be in your medicine cabinet, and they may cost only pennies a day. Some are common over-the-counter medications, and recent research shows that all fight cancer. They include:
• Aspirin. An article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that patients who used aspirin after being diagnosed with colon cancer had a 29 percent lower risk of dying from cancer than aspirin nonusers. In addition, those who used aspirin for the first time after a diagnosis of colon cancer reduced their risk of colorectal death by 47 percent.
University of Oxford researchers found that a daily aspirin reduced the risk of developing cancer of any kind by about 25 percent when compared to controls who didn't take aspirin. After five years, the risk of dying in the group taking aspirin was reduced by 37 percent.
A Chinese study found that women who took aspirin lowered their risk of developing lung cancer by 50 percent if they'd never smoked — and a whopping 62 percent if they smoked.
Researchers from Oregon Health and Science University found that aspirin kept colon cancer from spreading. They knew that platelets, the blood cells involved with clotting, release chemicals that increase the growth of cancerous cells, and the development of tumors. But when they combined platelets with nonmetastatic colon cancer (cells growing only within the colon) and nonmetastatic pancreatic cancer cells with aspirin, they found that the platelets were no longer able to stimulate the cancer cells to grow and spread.
• Antihistamines. Antihistamines, which are usually used to control the watery eyes and runny noses of allergies, appear to reverse the effects of a type of cell (myeloid derived suppressor cells) that reduces the body's ability to fight tumors. Researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University found that tumor growth was reversed when they injected mice with antihistamines.
"Antihistamines may be one of the most commonly used over-the-counter drugs, but this report shows that we still have much to learn about their potential benefits," said John Wherry, Ph.D., Deputy Editor of the Journal of Leukocyte Biology.
• NSAIDs. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) are inexpensive, over-the-counter painkillers. Non-prescription NSAIDs include Advil (ibuprofen), Aleve (naproxen), and Motrin (ibuprofen). Prescription strength NSAIDs include Celebrex and extra-strength (800 mg) Motrin. A Danish study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that the regular use of NSAIDs offered long-term protection against colon cancer. Taking NSAIDs for five years lowered colon cancer risk by up to 45 percent. The study showed that aspirin was also effective, although to a lesser degree. NSAIDs, like aspirin, may help fight cancer by tamping down inflammation.
• Acid reflux drugs. Ranitidine and famotidine, two drugs which are found in both Zantac and Pepcid AC that treat acid reflux and peptic ulcers, boost the body's immune system and reduce the growth of tumors, according to a study from Dalhousie Medical School in Halifax, N.S. Researchers found that using the drugs on a daily basis slowed the development and spread of cancer in mice genetically programmed to develop breast cancer.
"Our experiments have shown promising results; we found that daily treatment of ranitidine or famotidine inhibited the development and spread of breast tumors in mice," said the study's main instructor Dr. Jean Marshall.
• Mebendazole (MBZ). Mebendazole is an inexpensive, OTC medication used to fight parasites and is often used to treat pinworms, tapeworms, and roundworms. Although the drug has been discontinued in the U.S., it has been approved by the FDA to treat parasitic infections, and it can be ordered online under the names Antiox, Combantrin, Ovex, Pripsen, and Vermox. Numerous studies have shown it fights cancer by targeting the reproductive process of cancer cells and limiting their ability to replicate. A 2014 study found that in addition to fighting cancer by itself, MBZ also works in combination with other cancer treatments, creating a synergistic effect.
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