Celebrex May Reduce Lung Cancer Threat in Ex-Smokers

By Dirk Hanson 07/07/11

Controversial arthritis drug cuts down on a crucial protein needed for tumor growth.

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Only 15% still alive 5 years later.
Photo via thinkstockphotos

All smokers, both those who are abstinent and those still puffing away, harbor the same primal fear: A doctor identifies a “spot” on a lung after a routine chest X-ray.  The doctor arranges an appointment with a pulmonologist, who orders a CT scan, reviews it, and announces… it’s just a benign nodule. Nothing to worry about. That’s the happy scenario. The grim truth is that only about 15% of diagnosed lung cancer patients survive longer than 5 years. Lung cancer is a stone cold killer, and 85% of cases are smokers or former smokers. On Wednesday, a research team at the University of New Mexico announced that Celebrex, the controversial Cox-2 inhibitor used for the treatment of arthritis, may inhibit the growth of cells known to be precursors of lung cancer. Test subjects who took celecoxib had a 34% reduction in a protein called KI-67, which is an antigen necessary for cell proliferation, and is used as a marker for monitoring cell growth. In the case of breast and prostate cancer, the fraction of KI-67-positive cells in a tumor has proven to be a useful tool for determining how advanced a cancer is. The team found that the placebo group had a 3.8% increase over the same test period.

A lot more testing needs to be done. One potential problem: Celebrex increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke, so future clinical studies will be limited to smokers with no other cardiovascular risk factors.

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Dirk Hanson, MA, is a freelance science writer and the author of The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction. He is also the author of The New Alchemists: Silicon Valley and the Microelectronics Revolution. He has worked as a business and science reporter for numerous magazines and trade publications including Wired, Scientific American, The Dana Foundation and more. He currently edits the Addiction Inbox blog. Email: [email protected]

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