Plant Compound May Stop Lung Cancer

Substance May Both Prevent and Treat Lung Cancer

From the WebMD Archives

Feb. 19, 2003 -- A substance found in plants may help treat and prevent the deadliest type of cancer, which happens to be primarily caused by another plant (tobacco). According to new research, a natural plant product called deguelin may halt lung cancer in its tracks.

Researchers say deguelin is found in several different types of plant species and is part of a class of compounds in the flavonoid family. Other types of flavonoids, such as those found in tea, chocolate, and wine, are currently under investigation for potential anticancer and other healthful properties.

In the new study, researcher Kyung Hee Chun, of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, and colleagues say deguelin appeared to target the cancerous and precancerous cells, stopping their growth, while having minimal effects on the normal, healthy cells. Their study is published in the Feb. 19 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Because the substance didn't damage the healthy cells, researchers say the agent may hold great potential for both prevention and treatment of lung cancer. They say deguelin is highly specific and seems to work by zeroing in on a particular molecular pathway associated with lung cancer.

In an editorial that accompanies the study, James A. Crowell, PhD, and Vernon E. Steele, PhD, MPH, of the National Cancer Institute, say the findings are especially interesting because there have been so few agents that have shown potential to stop the progression of lung cancer.

"Lung cancer will claim the lives of 150,000 men and women this year," write the editorialists. "It is urgent that promising agents acting through such molecular targets be developed rapidly and brought to clinical testing."

SOURCE: Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Feb. 19, 2003.