Can Viagra Fight Cancer?

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It’s possible that Viagra (sildenafil), a drug used as an erectile dysfunction treatment, may also possess an ability to fight cancer. So far the anticancer potential of Viagra has been seen in mice only, and the only form of cancer used by the researchers was melanoma, the most lethal form of skin cancer. But the findings thus far raise the question, “Can Viagra fight cancer?”

Men who take Viagra for erectile dysfunction could say that the drug “wakes up” the penis. Now according to immunologist Viktor Umansky, one of the researchers at the German Cancer Research Center who conducted the new study, Viagra works against cancer because it “wakes up” the immune system.

Hints that Viagra possessed an ability to fight cancer were evident back in 2006, when Johns Hopkins University researchers reported that the drug increased the activity of immune cells in mice. But not just any immune cells: T cells, which are critical for immune function and known to attack tumors.

Most tumors release chemicals that inhibit T cells. However, in the new mouse study the researchers found that “sildenafil switches off these suppressor cells and wakes up the sleeping T cells,” according to Umansky. In this case, Viagra woke up the immune system to fight melanoma in mice.

Don’t be looking for Viagra on a list of cancer fighting drugs anytime soon. Umansky noted that years of research are necessary before Viagra could become a treatment for prostate cancer or any cancer. But the possibility has been raised.

Read more in our Prostate Cancer Health Center.

Reference

Meyer C et al. Chronic inflammation promotes myeloid-derived suppressor cell activation blocking antitumor immunity in transgenic mouse melanoma model. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science USA 2011 Oct 11; 108(41): 17111-16

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