Opioids Shown to Promote Cancer Cell Growth

Medications developed to help cancer and postoperative patients deal with chronic pain could lead to added complications. Aside from the dependency risk associated with opioids, two studies, along with a commentary featured in an issue of the Anesthesiology, cancer growth could be propelled with the use of opioids.

These findings were the key focus in a Medical News Today post. The studies and commentary suggest the continued use of opioids could stimulate growth, as well as the spread of malignant tumors. Pain killers containing opioids, including morphine, have often been the drug of choice for the treatment of chronic cancer and postoperative pain for the last 200 years.

Over the last 10 years, however, studies on the long-term effects of such medications suggest opioids can actually stimulate the growth of cancer cells. The University of Chicago Medicine, as well as the University of North Carolina Medical Center, have both produced works that suggest the mu opioid receptor has a significant role in the progression of tumors.

In the study produced by the University of Chicago Medicine, opioids that already exist within the body have been proven to improve the malignant propensity in human lung cancer cells placed in test mice. This enhancement occurred even when morphine was not added.

This particular test demonstrated that cells from a variety of lung cancers have anywhere from five to 10 times the number of receptors as lung cells without cancerous properties. When opioid receptors were added to the human lung cancer cells, the opiod receptor was measured growing more than double compared to tumor cells without the extra receptors.

At the same time, the cells with opioid receptors were 20 times more inclined to spread to additional sites outside of the original affected area. Tumor growth and spread was blocked by opioid receptors, such as methylnaltrexone or naloxone, suggesting these medications may be the better choice for those dealing with long-term or postoperative pain.

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