Familiar drugs may prevent cancer.
Despite positive results in large scale chemoprevention trials, many physicians are unaware of the potential cancer preventive properties of drugs in common usage. The antioestrogen tamoxifen and the selective cyclo-oxygenase-2 inhibitor celecoxib have been licensed in the USA for the chemoprevention of breast and colorectal cancers respectively in selected high risk individuals. Similarly, folate and retinol have been shown to decrease the incidence of colorectal cancer and squamous cell carcinoma of the skin respectively in large scale intervention trials. Other retinoids have proved efficacious in the tertiary chemoprevention of cancers of the breast and head/neck. Epidemiological evidence also exists in favour of aspirin, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors preventing certain cancers. Phytochemicals may represent less toxic alternatives to these agents. Although some of these drugs are available without prescription and most are not yet licensed for use in cancer chemoprevention, physicians and students of medicine should be aware of this accumulating evidence base. Practitioners should be amenable to patient referral to discuss complex issues such as risk estimation or potential benefit from intervention.