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Celebrex May Slow, Prevent Skin Cancers

Study Shows High-Risk Patients Had Fewer Basal Cell Cancers After Taking Celebrex

Study Ended Early Amid Vioxx Concerns continued...

The study participants were treated with a standard therapeutic dose of Celebrex (200 milligrams, twice a day) or a placebo. Neither the patients nor the investigators knew which treatment was being given.

The treatment arm of the trial was stopped in 2004 in response to concerns raised by the Vioxx studies. Nevertheless, most patients received two years of active treatment and were followed for an additional year.

While both treatment groups continued to develop new cancers during the study, treatment with Celebrex was associated with a 50% decrease in the growth of skin tumors among patients who entered the trial with 15 or fewer skin tumors.

Treatment with the NSAID was also found to reduce the total number of tumors in these patients, but not in patients with more than 15 basal cell carcinoma-related skin lesions at study entry.

The findings appear in the January issue of the journal Cancer Prevention Research.

New Strategy: The Hedgehog Pathway

Tang says it remains to be seen if other oral or even topical NSAIDs can prevent or slow the growth of basal cell carcinomas and other non-melanoma skin cancers.

In an editorial published with the study, Johns Hopkins University oncologist Charles M. Rudin, MD, PhD, writes about another promising skin cancer prevention strategy, which targets something known as the hedgehog pathway.

"The hedgehog pathway is essentially a cell program that is turned on in fetal development but is normally shut off in adult tissue," Rudin tells WebMD. "But in some cancers this pathway is turned on, and basal cell carcinoma is one of those cancers."

In early studies, Rudin and colleagues showed significant reductions in skin lesions when patients with basal cell carcinomas took drugs designed to inhibit, or shut off, the hedgehog pathway.

A trial is now under way in patients with Gorlin syndrome to determine if hedgehog-inhibiting drugs prevent or slow the growth of tumors in this high-risk group.

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