For cancer patients and their loved ones, treatment regimens can be a double-edged sword. As the drugs do their job of fighting cancer, they are often accompanied by debilitating side effects. Sometimes, for no clear reason, medicines that were effective all of a sudden stop working.
Cancer patients are often told to hold tight, so a new, less harmful treatment option might be around the corner. The reality is that it can take years for a new drug to move from the laboratory to your neighborhood pharmacy.
But what if alternative meds were readily available? What if they had already been tested and deemed safe for use?
This is where drug repurposing comes in.
Repurposing is the practice of taking compounds that have been approved for one illness and using them to treat something else. And it is steadily gaining traction as a smarter, cheaper, safer way to treat disease or infection, including cancer.
What is Off-Label Drug use for Cancer
In oncology, repurposing is not a new idea. In fact, the first chemotherapy drugs originally had an entirely different purpose: they were repurposed from chemical weapons. Doctors discovered that the same toxins that caused blistering in victims of “mustard gas” might have the ability to reduce tumors. As a result, they started to transform the toxic compound into a therapeutic one.
Some of the most successful examples of repurposing drugs have been discovered by chance rather than by design. This is because many diseases have common molecular characteristics, which means that treatments can be effective across multiple conditions.
How are Off-Label Drugs Used in Oncology?
In terms of chemotherapy, there are two main categories of off-label drugs:
1. Chemotherapy Replacement Options
Replacing chemotherapy by using drugs that are used to treat other conditions, such as infections and other common diseases.
As many cancer patients know firsthand, chemotherapy’s power to treat cancer can come with severe side effects.
So far, drug designers have been unable to develop a chemotherapy drug that will only kill cancer cells and leave normal cells untouched. Thus, oncologists are always on the lookout for drugs with fewer side effects.
Numerous drugs that were originally created to treat different medical conditions have been adapted for use in cancer therapy. Some of these drugs are already being used to treat cancer. Hundreds more have been found to stop the growth of tumor cells in laboratory cultures.
2. Chemotherapy Enhancement Options
The second category of off-label drugs is used with chemotherapy to improve its effectiveness or reduce its side effects. For instance, beta blockers can be given to cancer patients with heart issues to minimize the harm caused by chemotherapy on the heart.
Repurposed drugs are also used to alleviate side effects such as nausea, swelling, blistering, and hair loss.
Examples of Off-Label Drugs for Cancer Treatment
What common drugs are used off-label? Here is a general list of drugs commonly prescribed off label for oncology patients:
- Metformin is usually used for diabetes. In the mid-2000s, researchers found that patients taking this drug had a significantly lowered risk for breast cancer.
- Celebrex is commonly used for Osteoarthritis. It has been found to lower the chances of developing more polyps in people with a history of colon cancer.
- ATRA – All-trans retinoic acid (ATRA) has historically been used to treat severe acne. Researchers found that when ATRA is combined with chemotherapy, it significantly decreases the chance of relapse among leukemia patients in remission.
- Low Dose Naltrexone originally used to help narcotic dependents who have stopped taking narcotics to stay drug-free. LDN is showing promising results for people with primary cancer of the bladder, breast, liver, lung, lymph nodes, colon and rectum
- Vermox (mebendazole polymorph C) – Used to treat worm infestation in humans, has antitumor properties. It inhibits cancer cells’ growth, migrations, and metastatic formation of adrenocortical carcinoma.
- Dipyridamole – The original purpose of Dipyridamole is to prevent the formation of blood clots following a heart valve replacement. Today, it serves as an effective treatment for reducing tumor size, metastasis, progression, and inflammation in cancer patients.
- Statins – Some 40 million Americans take statins to lower their cholesterol. A growing body of evidence suggests these drugs may also protect against colorectal, prostate, and several other cancers.
- Ivermectin tablets are approved by the FDA to treat people with intestinal strongyloidiasis and onchocerciasis, two conditions caused by parasitic worms. Ivermectin has powerful antitumor effects, including the inhibition of proliferation, metastasis, and angiogenic activity, in a variety of cancer cells.
Jane McLelland: How to Starve Cancer
Jane McLelland is a physiotherapist who specializes in neurology and orthopedics.
McLelland survived cancer twice after being told she had a terminal illness and only weeks to live.
She used her medical knowledge and research to develop a treatment plan that combined supplements and old drugs. Since then, she has become a strong supporter and advocate for the use of off-label drugs in cancer treatment. She has helped change laws regarding the use of “off-patient” and “off label drugs”. Her book “How To Starve Cancer” is a popular resource for learning about the potential of drug repurposing.
Warnings and Limitations
Using off-label drugs has undoubtedly helped increase cancer survival rates and alleviate chemotherapy side effects in patients.
Off-label drugs allow physicians to prescribe approved drugs to apply for new uses. However, mixing medications or repurposing them should never be undertaken without the proper guidance and monitoring by your doctor or oncologist.
Get an Individualized Protocol
Heal Navigator makes it easy for cancer patients to speak directly with an oncologist who can help them understand how off-label drugs may benefit their treatment.