Research Linking Morphine to Spreading of Cancer Ongoing

Within the past six months there have been studies suggesting a possible link between the pain medication morphine and the spread of cancer in the body.  The studies have claimed to uncover evidence that the drug actually may lead to the spreading of cancer and contribute to patient death. 

Experiments done by US scientists have revealed that morphine (an opiate drug prescribed to patients who experience extreme pain as a result of their cancer diagnosis) actually helps the body grow new blood vessels and as a side effect weakens the immune system. The process of angiogenesis is the body’s ability to grow new blood vessels throughout the body to increase blood flow and oxygen to different parts of the body. 

What scientists are theorizing now is that morphine encourages this process of angiogenesis and that if a tumor or cancerous growth is given increased blood flow it not only increases its growth rate, but also helps spread to other parts of the body.  In addition, the immune system is weakened in the body, which makes it easier for cancers to spread.

Despite this potentially disturbing news, laboratory tests are currently being conducted to develop a genetically altered type of morphine where the cancer growth inducing, immune system side effect is absent.  In an experiment involving mice, the genetically altered morphine drug methylnaltrexone reduced the spread of cancer growth and angiogenesis in 90% of test subjects.  Human testing is the next step in experimentation with this drug, in what is thus far being treated as a theory and not being utilized by the medical field.

It must be stressed that these findings and studies are being reviewed by medical experts in Europe and the United States, and thus far have not changed the way cancer patients are treated, or the medications they are given.  All cancer treatment options and alternatives are still best discussed between the patient and their physician. 

Opiates like morphine are commonly given to cancer patients and sufferers of malignant mesothelioma.  If this study is continued and further evidence of this link comes to light, this will dramatically reshape the way doctors treat cancer.