Naltrexone Could Be Effective Cancer Treatment Drug, Says Study

By John Lavitt 07/05/16

Researchers have discovered that the popular opioid antagonist medication contains anti-cancer properties. 

Naltrexone Could Be Effective Cancer Treatment Drug, Says Study

The opioid antagonist drug naltrexone actually could be used as a cancer treatment drug, according to a recent study. The unexpected findings of the research conducted by scientists at St. George's, University of London, reveal naltrexone to have a beneficial impact on cancer patients. 

Led by Dr. Wai Liu and Professor Angus Dalgleish, the study uncovered how in small doses, naltrexone (LDN) seems to alter how a cancer cell behaves by modifying the internal regulatory system, as reported by Science Daily. The drug was found to also raise the body's innate hostility levels to the cancer cells and their growth. As expressed in the report, “Our data support further the idea that LDN possesses anticancer activity, which can be improved by modifying the treatment schedule.”

Published in the International Journal of Oncology, the truly fascinating part of the new research is that naltrexone does not only cause the cancer cells to stop growing. Surprisingly, the drug also seems to alter the internal workings of the cancer cells, transforming them from attack mechanisms against healthy cells by creating a self-destructive impulse that makes them more likely to kill themselves. Given this shift in the biological machinery of the cancer cells, the naltrexone treatments also potentially raise the effectiveness of more traditional cancer treatments by lowering the virulence of the cells.

"We have shown that the genetic fingerprint of naltrexone differs according to the different doses used, which identifies new ways of using it as an anti-cancer treatment," said Dr. Liu, who has 20 years of cancer treatment research under his belt. "Rather than stopping the cancer cells from growing, patients want to be rid of them. We saw that by giving the drug for two days, then withdrawing it, cancer cells would stop cycling and undergo cell death."

Presently, naltrexone is licensed only for the treatment of alcohol and heroin addiction in most countries. Dr. Liu is hopeful that his team’s research will lead to clinical trials being approved for LDN as a cancer treatment drug. He believes naltrexone will be employed as an add-on to bolster and improve more traditional cancer treatments.

Dr. Liu believes the study could open the door for the future repurposing of other treatment drugs. "We have taken a drug that is relatively safe in humans, and reformulated a new use for it; this has only been possible by understanding the dynamics of a drug," Dr. Liu said. "(This approach) helps clinicians to devise new ways to tackle a disease that affects so many."

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles with his beautiful wife, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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