Anti-cancer hope raised by drugs for depression

COMMONLY used antidepressants could significantly reduce the risk of developing some types of cancer, the latest research suggests.

A UK study has found that patients taking tricyclic antidepressants had a lower incidence of colorectal cancer and a type of brain tumour known as glioma.

The researchers hope the findings could provide a blueprint for the development of new anti-cancer treatments.

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Scientists from Nottingham, Lincoln and Warwick universities studied more than 90,000 patients from around the UK to assess the impact of the tricyclic antidepressants which are used for the treatment of depression and other psychiatric disorders.

They said they had found “highly statistically significant trends” showing that their use of reduced the risk of developing glioma and colorectal cancer.

The size of the effects was greater with higher doses and longer duration of exposure to the drugs.

Tricyclic antidepressants were shown to reduce the chances of developing glioma by between 41 per cent and 64 per cent, depending on the dose and length of time for which the drugs were taken.

The effect on colorectal cancer was less, with between a 16 per cent and 21 per cent reduction in risk of getting the disease.

The reduced risk was only seen with these two types of cancer, with other types of the disease not affected.

Researchers said the findings pointed to an “Achilles heel” in cancer cells which could provide a basis for the development of new drug treatments.

Dr Tim Bates, from Lincoln University, said although it was not realistic that tricyclic antidepressants could be widely prescribed to prevent cancer because of other side effects, it was possible that they could benefit patients identified through DNA screening as being at heightened risk of developing specific cancers.

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More significantly, he said the findings offered the basis for a new approach to the prevention and treatment of cancer through the development of anti-mitochondrial drugs which inhibit the growth of cancer cells without harming normal cells.