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A drug already approved for use in humans may prevent invasive bladder cancer, according to a study by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine.
The drug, FK506, is commonly used to suppress the immune system in organ transplant recipients to combat rejection.
The researchers found that low doses of FK506, also known as tacrolimus, prevented the development of invasive bladder cancer in 10 out of 10 laboratory mice that were given a carcinogen over five months. In contrast, seven of nine control mice developed invasive cancers during the same time period.
"This could be a boon to the management of bladder cancer patients," said Philip Beachy, PhD, professor of biochemistry and of developmental biology at Stanford and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. "Bladder cancer is the most expensive cancer to treat per patient because most patients require continual monitoring. The effective prevention of progression to invasive carcinoma would be a major advance in the treatment of this disease."
Beachy is the Ernest and Amelia Gallo Professor in the School of Medicine and a member of the Stanford Cancer Institute and the Stanford Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine. He is the senior author of the study, published Oct. 13 in Cancer Cell. Former postdoctoral scholar Kunyoo Shin, PhD, and former graduate student Agnes Lim, PhD, are the lead authors.
Two types of bladder cancer
Bladder cancer is the fourth most common cancer in men and the ninth most common in women. Smoking is a significant risk factor. There are two main types of the disease: one that invades the muscle around the bladder and metastasizes to other organs, and another that remains confined to the bladder lining. The noninvasive type, which comprises about 70 percent of all bladder cancers, is treatable. The invasive form is largely incurable and often deadly. It is also expensive and difficult to treat, and the high likelihood of recurrence requires ongoing monitoring after treatment.
Some noninvasive cases will progress to invasive cases. FK506 works, the researchers found, by activating a molecular pathway that signals potential cancer cells to become specialized, nondividing tissue. This keeps them from engaging in the uncontrolled growth that can lead to the invasion of surrounding tissue.