Chris Woollams. CANCERactive. This article looks at a common over-the-counter medicine called Cimetidine, or Tagamet, and how research shows it seems to play an important role in stopping at least one aspect of the cancer process.
As regular readers know, I do not believe any single compound not Herceptin, not Temozolomide, not Vitamin D, not B-17 is a cancer ´cure´.
I believe cancer is a multi-step process and there are some very real ´treatments´ that can have a profound effect on particular steps: - Like Memorial Sloan-Kettering´s research showing resveratrol can stop COX-2 doing its inflammatory work in breast cancer; or Emory School of Medicine showing that curcumin stops vascular endothelial growth factors (making blood vessels for tumours), or Harvard Medical School showing vitamin D can convert cancer cells back to normal cells. These are but steps in the process that makes up a full-blown cancer.
One such step is the need for cancer cells to be sticky. The sticky ones survive in the blood stream by sticking to the blood vessel walls; they also use the stickiness to ´clump´ together with other cancer cells and start a tumour. The stickiness also holds the tumour together. The velcro-like stickiness is caused by E-selectin. Cimetidine is now known to block E-selectin.
Cimetidine, or Tagamet, is a cheap over-the-counted medicine which was approved by the FDA back in 1977. It is a histamine receptor antagonist, and is used to treat stomach and duodenal ulcers and heartburn and indigestion. Histamines cause the stomach to produce acid and cimetidine stops this.
Cimetidine works against histamine receptor sites on the cell wall. And histamines seem to be required to bind cancer cells together. Trials have been conducted on other ´histamine-receptor antagonists´ but to no avail.
The first report of cimetidine´s use with cancer was an article in The Lancet in 1979 (1: 882-883) which reported that it possessed anti-tumour abilities. It had been used with a lung cancer patient. Several studies with mice followed until another Lancet report showed it effective with melanoma patients, where it cleared up the ´ulceration´ of tumours.
A number of papers then appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine and The Lancet showing its effectiveness amongst patients after colorectal cancer operations, either used on its own or in conjunction with standard treatments. By 2002 the British Journal of Cancer reported a trial with 64 patients. The group without cimetidine showed a 10-year survival of 49.8, whereas the group also taking cimetidine had a 10-year survival of 84.6 per cent. In the group with the most aggressive cancers the figures were, without 23 per cent; with 85 per cent! The important conclusion was to give the drug before and during surgery.
This conclusion was reinforced by two studies one from Japan (Fujita Health University; Matsumoto; Lancet 1995; 346: 115) where the group taking cimetidine with the chemotherapy 5-FU had a 4-year survival of 96.3 per cent compared to the group on chemo only of 68.8 per cent. The cimetidine was given before the surgery. However, in a Danish study where it was started 3 weeks after surgery there was no benefit over the control group.
In our article, ´Can Surgery Spread Cancer?´ we looked at various ways in which surgery may cause more metastatic activity. Cimetidine may in fact help in two ways not just by its histamine-preventing activity stopping cells clumping together, but it just may boost the immune system as well.
In 1997 the journal Cancer (80: 15-21) reported a study by Adams and Morris where again the cimetidine was given before and during colorectal surgery. They looked at white blood lymphocytes before and after the surgery. Those patients taking the cimetidine showed an improvement in lymphocyte levels in more than half the subjects, whereas the placebo boosted the levels in under a quarter of the control group. Equally important was the follow up where 3-year survival was ´in line with the findings at the time of surgery´. It is possible that this immune response as an independent benefit. But it is equally possible that it exists because the immune system has less work to do in the cimetidine group as it stops the formation of, and breaks down the adherence in, tumours.
Other studies have looked at prostate cancer and found similar improved survival figures.
If you are having surgery you might be well advised to look into this cheap medicine and start using it in advance of the operation! It seems to be another excellent example of integrative, or holistic, cancer treatment in action. But tell your surgeon in advance and quote the research. He simply may not know!
You may also wish to read this article before you have surgery too. Click here.