A new study published in Nature Communications claims that an old malaria treatment drug can be used to reduce cancerous tumors. The drug, called atovaquone, was tested on mice which had tumors with low oxygen levels.
Scientists have found that cancer cells repair themselves faster in low oxygen environments. This is why radiotherapy is often considered hazardous, since cancer cells have the potential to grow faster after therapy. Tumors with low oxygen levels are typically more challenging to treat and usually metastasize to other areas.
However, it was found that atovaquone helps oxygenate the tumors so that they are more thoroughly destroyed during radiotherapy sessions. The malaria drug was tested on different sets of tumors and was seen to be effective for different types of cancers such as lung, head, neck, and brain cancer. Since this is an older medicine – and one used for a different illness altogether – it is readily available over the counter and from generic medicine manufacturers.
Authors of the study caution the public that results are from research in the initial stages and the medicine should not be considered a comprehensive treatment for cancer. Further research is necessary before oncologists will use atovaquone as a supplement for radiotherapy sessions. Yet this is an exciting discovery that opens doors to “new” treatments for cancer from other illness drugs.
Scientists and health professionals still do not understand the exact mechanics of the genesis of different forms of cancer, so cancer treatment has been in a protracted state of research. By testing other drugs and treatment, oncologists hope to reverse-deduce how cancer develops and thus effectively treat and/or prevent it.
Sandra Balan is a strong supporter of the American Cancer Society and actively looks for the latest news on cancer treatments. To learn more about developments in research, follow this Twitter account.