• 7/2/2002
  • British Columbia
  • Jennifer Warner
  • WebMD Medical News

For the first time, researchers say they’ve found a drug that can actually reduce the risk of lung cancer in both former and current smokers. Stephen Lam, MD, of the British Columbia Cancer Agency, and colleagues found that a drug originally used to treat dry mouth — known as anethole dithiolethione or ADT (sold under the names Sialor or Sulfarlem) — may effectively prevent lung cancer in some people at risk.

Their study followed 101 current and former smokers who had an irregular growth in their lungs and were at high risk for developing lung cancer. After six months, those who’d taken ADT three times a day had about half the number of growths become cancerous, and developed fewer new growths, than did those who took a placebo. The findings appear in the July 3 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

The study authors suggest that the drug works like an antioxidant — seeking out cancer-causing free radicals and destroying them.

The best way to reduce lung cancer risk is to never start smoking, or to quit if you’ve already picked up the habit. But even in those who’ve quit, the increased risk of lung cancer never completely disappears. That’s why researchers say it’s important to find some sort of drug therapy to reduce the risk of lung cancer in former smokers. “When people give up smoking late in life, the risk of lung cancer does not go away,” Lam says in a news release. In fact, 50% of lung cancer patients are former smokers. Side effects of ADT included minor stomach or intestinal problems that were easily resolved.

Lam says the next step is to determine if ADT can prevent cancer from coming back in people with head or neck cancers or those who have had surgery to remove early stage cancers in the mouth, lung, or esophagus.

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