Methynaltrexone, a drug given to late-stage cancer patients to help ease the constipation brought on by morphine has been shown to extend their lives, researchers said.
Opioids like morphine are known to cause severe constipation (Opiod Induced Constipation (OIC) that often cannot be relieved by traditional laxatives.
The researchers who presented their findings at the meeting of the American Society of Anesthesiologists in San Diego said they had suspected methylnaltrexone might inhibit cancer growth. After more than a decade in the lab trying to assess how Methylnaltrexone affects cancer, they found evidence it could decrease tumor growth and extend survival in patients who respond to the drug.
229 patients were studied across two randomized, controlled clinical trials on the relief of constipation for patients in the late stages of cancer and other terminal diseases.
"117 cancer patients received methylnaltrexone (marketed as Relistor) for opioid-induced constipation, while 112 were given a placebo," said the study.
57 percent of those who received Methylnaltrexone experienced relief from constipation. The other 43 percent did not.
"Those who received and responded to methylnaltrexone lived, on average, twice as long (118 days versus 58 days) as those who did not respond or were given the placebo," said the findings.
The drug did not have any life-extending effects on patients with other illnesses like congestive heart failure, advanced chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or neurologic diseases.
Researchers are not sure exactly how the drug works to extend life, and are continuing to study the matter in hopes their discovery could lead to new methods of cancer treatment.