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Morphine may help cancer cells spread, testing reveals

Category: Cancer Detection and Tumor Markers

Morphine and similar opiates may promote the growth and spread of cancer cells, according to a new study, providing reason for cancer testing in patients who have been exposed to the painkillers.

Dr Patrick Singleton, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Chicago, led a team of researchers who conducted tests on cell cultures and mice to determine that the body's receptor that reacts with morphine, the mu opiate receptor, could become a target for cancer treatment studies, HealthDay News reports.

The researchers found that mice without the mu opiate receptor didn't develop tumors after being injected with lung cancer cells, unlike normal mice.

According to the scientists, morphine can decrease the function of cell barriers, easing the path for tumors to metastasize to other tissues and parts of the body. The ability of opiates to promote the growth of new blood vessels also helps cancerous cells thrive in new locations.

"If confirmed clinically, this could change how we do surgical anesthesia for our cancer patients," Singleton told the news source. "It also suggests potential new applications for this novel class of drugs (opiates) which should be explored."

According to the American Cancer Society, lung cancer is predicted to account for about 30 percent of all cancer-related deaths in men and 26 percent in women in 2009.

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