Viagra for Prostate Cancer? 10 Multi-Use Drugs

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Viagra is well recognized for its primary use. But who knew it would show promise as a cancer fighter, too?

Medical advances can be slow -- a fact frustrating to some who want the "latest and greatest" cure for their ailment, and don't want to wait out the testing process.

But once a drug has been approved for one use, doctors can prescribe it "off-label" when it is shown to be useful for something else. And an increasing number of drugs are prescribed in this manner. Off-label use of medicines accounts for about one-fifth of all prescriptions, according to a past study in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Viagra, for example, is a triple threat -- it's most commonly used to treat erectile dysfunction and is FDA-approved to treat pulmonary hypertension, but it can also be used to increase blood flow as a way to avoid amputations. And now, researchers may have found yet another use for the extremely popular drug: to help treat prostate cancer when used in combination with another cancer drug.

There are other drugs that perform double duty, including a skin cancer cream used to smooth out your facial wrinkles, a baldness drug to protect against prostate cancer, and a drug for enlarged prostate and possibly prostate cancer that may stop baldness.

Many of these off-label uses meet with controversy and questions about their value, particularly since the FDA has not yet approved the uses. (As a result, drug companies cannot advertise off-label uses.)

Though the hair loss drug finasteride is recommended by some medical organizations as a preventative measure against prostate cancer, many doctors say that such a use is inefficient and ill-advised.

But in many other cases, the alternative uses are well-known in the medical community -- though perhaps not among the general public -- and are regularly exploited.

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Viagra

Viagra is approved for use as a treatment for erectile dysfunction, and is also marketed under the name Revatio to treat pulmonary hypertension, a buildup of pressure in blood vessels leading to the lungs.

Doctors have also used it off-label to increase the blood flow to damaged areas as a way to avoid amputation and the onset of gangrene.

And new promising research may also lead to another use of Viagra: as a treatment for prostate cancer in combination with another cancer drug, doxorubicin.



Researchers from Virginia Commonwealth University discovered that in mice, the combination of Viagra and doxorubicin effectively killed prostate cancer cells and also offered a protection against the well-known cardiac effects of doxorubicin, including cardiomyopathy and heart failure. The study is published in the latest issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"Doxorubicin has been used for more than 40 years and continues to be one of the most effective drugs against cancer, but the problem is the cardiac effects of this drug," said Rakesh Kukreja, professor of internal medicine at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va., and one of the study's authors.

Kukreja said the drug combination was also effective against ovarian cancer and stomach cancer, and the findings show it has great potential as a cancer treatment.

Other experts are not convinced of that treatment potential.

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