Viagra May Help Prevent Colorectal Cancer


Scientists have recently discovered that Viagra, the erectile dysfunction drug, while also used to treat a variety of other ailments, may be effective as a preventative for colorectal cancer. BSIP/Getty Images

Colorectal cancer is a killer — it's the third leading cause of cancer-related death in the U.S. Over 50,500 Americans will die from colorectal cancers in 2018, according to the American Cancer Society, and some researchers are even saying we should start screening people for it at 45 instead of 50, an age the medical community has always considered plenty conservative.

But new research suggests science might be hot on the trail of a preventative drug for colorectal cancer, and, SURPRISE!, it's Viagra.

"When we give Viagra, we shrink the whole proliferating compartment," said lead author Dr. Darren D. Browning, in a March 19, 2018, press release. "Proliferating cells are more subject to mutations that cause cancer."

The famous erectile dysfunction drug (its actual name is sildenafil) is used to treat a variety of other ailments as well, including altitude sickness and pulmonary hypertension in premature infants. But researchers at the Georgia Cancer Center at the Medical College of Georgia have found sildenafil to have a helpful side hustle: It seems to prevent the growth of potentially precancerous polyps on the inner lining of the intestines of mice prone to developing colorectal cancer. In fact, mice that got a tiny dose of the drug every day in their water had half the polyps of those that didn't.

Sildenafil is so helpful in treating erectile dysfunction and hypertension because it relaxes smooth muscle cells around blood vessels, allowing blood to more easily move into them. The research team found the drug also seems to boost levels of a chemical called cyclic GMP, which is known to affect the epithelium — the lining of the gut. For reasons that remain mysterious, increased cyclic GMP suppresses the runaway proliferation of cells in the epithelium that can lead to polyp growth.

Browning and his co-authors are quick to point out that existing polyps were not affected by sildenafil, but their research suggests that boosting cyclic GMP before polyps form in those at high risk for colorectal cancers could be a very promising preventative strategy.


More to Explore