Jewish World Review April 19, 2002 / 8 Iyar, 5762

Anti-inflammatory RXs may reduce growth of breast cancer cells

By Robert A. Wascher, M.D., F.A.C.S. | I have previously reported on intriguing research that may help to explain why some cancers appear to be less common in people who regularly take certain anti-inflammatory medications (e.g., aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, Vioxx, Celebrex, etc.).

In the current issue of the journal Cancer Research, new research shows that the growth of at least some types of breast cancer cells can be inhibited by exposure to Celebrex and related anti-inflammatory drugs. These drugs inhibit a class of enzymes referred to as COX enzymes (cyclooxygenase). When exposed to Celebrex in this study, breast cancer cells that normally produce COX not only grew at a significantly slower rate, but when implanted into mice, Celebrex appeared to also significantly reduce the number of these tumor cells that spread to distant sites (metastasized).

Several different types of cancers have already been shown to synthesize COX enzymes, including many breast, prostate and colorectal cancers. However, it is currently unknown whether all-or even most-types of cancer are responsive to these drugs, although a great deal of research is currently underway to answer this question (there are already several research studies that have shown an apparent reduction in the risk of developing colon polyps in people who take anti-inflammatory COX-inhibitors).

This is a very exciting area of cancer research, as there are many anti-inflammatory drugs already approved for human use. Of course, all of these medications can have potentially serious side effects, and none of them are approved as "anti-cancer" drugs at this time. However, I predict that this area of cancer research is going to produce some significant breakthroughs in terms of cancer prevention and, possibly, cancer treatment.


From the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS) comes a rather disturbing finding.

Biologists have been studying an apparently rising incidence of deformities in frogs throughout the United States over the past decade or so. Missing or deformed limbs and abnormal sex organs are two of the most commonly seen deformities in these amphibians.

The study in PNAS exposed African clawed frogs to a pesticide called atrazine, which is in widespread use throughout the US. Indeed, so prevalent is atrazine in the water supply, the FDA sets allowable concentration limits for its presence in public drinking water. After exposing frog larvae in the laboratory to concentrations of atrazine that were comparable to levels measured in the wild, the University of California (Berkeley) researchers found that male frogs became "demasculinized." Worse still, many of the frogs went on to develop microscopic evidence of hermaphroditism (the presence of sexual organs from both sexes in one individual). A ten-fold decrease in testosterone levels was also noted in the male frogs exposed to atrazine.

Scientists around the world have previously linked, at least theoretically, the observed decline in human sperm counts with the pervasive presence of certain pesticides in the environment. Many of these compounds are so chemically stable that it may take many decades for them to be broken down into less toxic substance. While humans may or may not react to atrazine in the same manner as amphibians, the results of this study are nonetheless worrisome, as frogs and humans share amazing similarities when it comes to reproductive physiology.


In coronary artery bypass patients who must subsequently undergo angioplasty and placement of coronary artery stents (tiny expandable tubes that help to keep the narrowed coronary artery open) because the arterial bypass graft has become narrowed, repeated episodes of graft artery narrowing can occur at the site of the stent.

When this occurs, the angioplasty must be repeated (using a tiny inflatable sausage-shaped balloon) to allow blood to flow through the artery, and to the heart muscle, once again. Drugs and radiation treatment are, therefore, routinely used to reduce the risk of restenosis, or narrowing, in bypass grafts taken from the arteries (internal mammary arteries) that run alongside the breastbone (sternum).

However, the effectiveness of radiation treatments to heart bypass grafts taken from leg veins has not been well studied. In almost all patients who require multiple coronary artery bypasses, at least some of the bypass grafts are created using the greater saphenous vein(s) from one or both legs.

In this week's New England Journal of Medicine is a report on the use of radiation treatment following restenosis of previously stented saphenous vein bypass grafts. These study patients had all undergone coronary artery bypass with saphenous veins, and had subsequently required angioplasty and stenting of these vein grafts due to stenosis.

When the patients presented again with recurrent stenosis in the stented segment of the bypass grafts, they were treated, once again, with angioplasty. A total of 60 patients then underwent radiation treatment of the reopened vein bypass grafts and 60 patients received only a "placebo treatment" (no radiation). The restenosis rate in the irradiated group of patients was 21% after six months of observation, as compared to a 44% restenosis rate in the placebo group. Likewise, at 12 months, the irradiated group had required significantly fewer (17% versus 57%) additional procedures to reopen a clogged bypass graft than did the placebo group.

Finally, 32% of the irradiated group experienced a recurrent heart attack or death due to heart attack, while 63% of the placebo group experienced such adverse events after 12 months of observation. Bottom line: in coronary artery bypass patients who have required angioplasty and stenting of saphenous vein bypass grafts because of bypass graft stenosis, irradiation of the stented grafts should probably be considered.

JWR contributor Dr. Robert A. Wascher is a senior research fellow in molecular & surgical oncology at the John Wayne Cancer Institute in Santa Monica, CA. Comment by clicking here.


04/05/02: Fish & Omega-3 fatty acid consumption and cardiac health; news briefs
04/05/02: Can coffee reduce your risk of tooth decay?; exercise & blood pressure; a single high-fat meal reduces coronary artery function
04/01/02: Pre-diabetes: a newly defined category of health risk; teen television viewing and subsequent aggressive behavior; the benefits of strength training in the elderly; more ...
03/22/02: Bacteria, antibiotics & heart disease; mammograms: the debate continues; calcium & the risk of colon cancer ... and more
03/15/02: Mammography debate continues; statins & fracture risk; physical fitness & the risk of death; other intriguing findings
03/08/02: Blows to the chest & sudden cardiac death; air quality & the risk of lung cancer; tomatoes and your prostate
03/01/02: Diet & the risk of ovarian cancer; lifetime risk of developing high blood pressure; Osteoporosis prevention with a once-a-year injection?
02/26/02: The continuing controversy regarding screening mammography
02/22/02: Lowering body temperature after heart attack improves outcome; A silver lining for the chronically sleep-deprived?
02/15/02: Hormone replacement therapy & the risk of breast cancer; use it or lose it: Alzheimer's disease & cognitive stimulation; stress, divorce & death; child daycare, infections & parental guilt
02/08/02: Possible breakthrough in early cancer diagnosis; mammography: the controversy continues; CPR techniques revisited
02/01/02: Antibiotics in livestock feed & human disease; genetic detection of early colon cancer in the stool; genetic analysis of breast cancers may help decide treatment
01/25/02: Drug increases lifespan (if you're a fly...); workplace attitudes and smoking cessation; effects of inadequate sleep on surgeons
01/18/02: Lifelong effects of premature birth; smokers under the knife; aspirin and cardiovascular health
01/11/02: Estrogen levels in the blood & breast cancer risk; Heart attack: sex and survival; dangerous lettuce invaders
01/09/02: Cancer & aging: Two sides of the same coin?
01/04/02: Vitamin a & the risk of hip fracture in postmenopausal women; ovarian cancer risk and oral contraceptives
12/28/01: Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) detects coronary artery disease; new development in obesity research; adverse childhood experiences & the risk of suicide attempts
12/21/01: Vaccination of children controls hepatitis a in the community; a possible cure for sickle cell disease; leptin and the risk of heart attacks
12/14/01: Chernobyl and the Risk of Thyroid Cancer in hildren; children & obesity; gastroesophageal reflux disease update
12/07/01: Update on school shootings; new implantable heart-assist device approved for further evaluation; prevention of fungal infections in pre-term babies
11/30/01: Flu vaccination in asthmatics; low-tar cigarettes are not less harmful; beans and your heart
11/21/01: Modified smallpox vaccine may reduce risk of cervical cancer; New approach to breast cancer diagnosis; New non-invasive prenatal diagnostic test for down's syndrome
11/16/01: Cholesterol-lowering drugs reduce risk of heart attack; supplemental radiation therapy reduces risk of breast cancer recurrence; brains of women may answer age-old questions
11/09/01: Bio-warfare (redux); my gray matter is bigger than yours; mad elk disease?
11/02/01: Making sense of bio-warfare
10/26/01: The impact of mammography on deaths due to breast cancer; diet & exercise may slow cancer cell growth; antidepressants and the risk of heart disease
10/19/01: New insights into autism; the wiley appendix
10/12/01: More bad news about obesity links to other diseases…Hey dad, can I borrow the car keys?
10/05/01: California leads nation in reduction of tobacco-related disease; exercise as an antidepressant?
09/25/01: Advances in the detection of breast cancer; primary care physician awareness of peripheral arterial disease; arsenic in the water
09/17/01: In perspective
09/12/01: Genes may hold secret to long life; men and women: cognitive function in the elderly; physical activity, obesity and the risk of pancreatic cancer
09/05/01: English milk cows prefer Beethoven and Simon & Garfunkel over Bananarama; new prostate cancer prevention study: looking for a few good men; exercise & diet can help prevent diabetes
08/28/01: Arthritis drugs may be linked with increased risk of heart disease; errors in blood clotting tests can be fatal; infant soy formula not associated with reproductive side effects

© 2002, Dr. Robert A. Wascher