Sleeping sickness drug may help prevent skin cancer

Researchers have revealed that an antiparasitic agent used to treat African sleeping sickness might someday be used to prevent nonmelanoma skin cancers.

They found that DFMO, or a-difluoromethylornithine, continue to protect against nonmelanoma skin cancers years after people stopped taking the drug.

In this follow-up study, researchers evaluated prolonged evidence of a protective effect of DFMO among 209 people who had participated in an earlier study.

The researchers also wanted to ensure there were no obvious deleterious effects associated with the drug, according to Howard H. Bailey, M.D., professor of medicine, and study presenter Sarah Lamont, a medical student, both from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

“We found there is still evidence that the men and women assigned to DFMO for five years continued to have a lower incidence of nonmelanoma skin cancers compared with people assigned to placebo,” Bailey said.

“What we saw was that the presumed benefit that people got in taking DFMO appeared to persist for years after stopping it.

“Our data suggest that the protective event that we saw in our prospective study appears to continue and there was no evidence of any rebound effect.

“We did not find any evidence that the people who received DFMO were harmed [other than the original ototoxicity],” he added.

However, Bailey cautioned, more studies are needed before DFMO can be recommended as a prophylaxis against nonmelanoma skin cancers.

The study was presented at the 10th AACR International Conference on Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research, held Oct. 22-25, 2011.

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