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June 13, 2007

Study: Talcum Powder Stunts Cancer Growth

Topics: Medicine

Lung%20cancer.jpgLung cancer forms in tissues of the lung, usually in the cells lining air passages. There are two main types of lung cancer, small cell lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer, which are diagnosed based on how the cells look under a microscope. The NCI estimates there will be 213,380 new cases and 160,390 deaths from lung cancer (non-small cell and small cell combined) in the United States in 2007. With numbers like these, effective new treatments can save the lives of many patients.

Amidst the backdrop of these numbers, University of Florida researchers report that talcum powder, used for generations to soothe babies diaper rash and freshen women's faces, has an additional healing power: The ability to stunt cancer growth by cutting the flow of blood to metastatic lung tumors. The cheap, easily available, old-fashioned product, can possibly prolong a patient's life, and will undoubtedly have a significant influence on future clinical trials dealing with the treatment of pleural malignancies, including lung cancer, mesothelioma and metastatic adenocarcinoma involving the pleural surfaces:

The study, published in the European Respiratory Journal in April, reveals that talc stimulates healthy cells to produce endostatin, a hormone considered the magic bullet for treating metastatic lung cancer. The UF researchers say talc is an exciting new therapeutic agent for a cancer largely considered incurable.

"We found, to our surprise, that talc causes tumor growth to slow down and actually decreases the tumor bulk," said Veena Antony, M.D., a professor of pulmonary medicine and chief of pulmonary and critical care medicine at UF's College of Medicine. "Talc is able to prevent the formation of blood vessels, thereby killing the tumor and choking off its growth. The tumors appeared to grow much slower and in some cases completely disappeared."

Scientists have only recently discovered that talcum powder stunts tumor growth, though the mineral has been used for almost 70 years to treat the respiratory problems that accompany metastatic lung cancer. About half of all patients accumulate fluid around the surface of the lungs, a condition known as malignant pleural effusion.

"That fluid can press down upon the lung, impair the breathing of the patient and cause the patient to feel very short of breath," said Antony.

Pleural effusions indicate that the cancer, which might have started in the breast, lung or gastrointestinal tract, has spread throughout the body. The prognosis for the roughly 200,000 patients afflicted with this condition is poor: Many die within six months.

To make life more bearable for these patients, doctors close the extra space between the lung and the chest wall, where the troublesome fluid collects. The trick is gluing the two surfaces together. Talc is blown into the patients chest cavity to irritate the tissue and create tiny abrasions. When the lung tissue heals, it becomes permanently adhered to the chest wall without impairing the patients breathing. The effects of the procedure, called medical thoracoscopy with talc pleurodesis, are immediate and last a lifetime.

'shortness of breath is a horrible way to die," Antony said. "The procedure spares the patient and the family the misery of watching their loved one suffer. It's been used very extensively in Europe but it's had slower acceptance (in the United States), perhaps because of the need to learn a new technology."

The Food and Drug Administration approved talc for use in medical thoracoscopy in 2003, but UF is one of just a handful of U.S. institutions that perform the outpatient procedure on a routine basis.

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Common signs and symptoms of lung cancer include a cough that doesn't go away and gets worse over time, constant chest pain, coughing up blood, shortness of breath, wheezing, or hoarseness, repeated problems with pneumonia or bronchitisswelling of the neck and face, loss of appetite or weight loss, and fatigue.

Cross posted from New Hope Blog

Posted by Richard at June 13, 2007 7:36 AM

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