Mood-stabilizing drug may prevent head/neck cancer

A commonly used mood-stabilizing drug may help prevent head and neck cancer (HNC), according to a new study in Cancer (March 24, 2014).

Valproic acid (VPA) is currently prescribed as an antiseizure medication and mood stabilizer, but it is also being studied as an anticancer agent because it inhibits histone acetyltransferases, which help control gene expression by changing DNA structure, according to the journal's publisher, Wiley.

Johann Christoph Brandes MD, PhD, of the Atlanta Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Emory University in Atlanta, led researchers who assessed the anticancer effects of VPA in a study of 439,628 veterans, of whom 26,911 were taking the medication for bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, migraines, and seizures.

Veterans who took VPA for at least one year had a 34% lower risk of developing HNC compared with those who did not take the medication, the researchers found. Higher doses and longer duration of VPA use seemed to provide additional benefits. No significant differences were observed for lung, bladder, colon, and prostate cancers.

A 34% risk reduction for the development of HNC using VPA could prevent about 16,000 new cases and 3,000 to 4,000 annual deaths in the U.S. alone, Dr. Brandes said. "Head and neck cancer is an important global health crisis, and low-cost and low-toxicity prevention strategies like VPA use have a high potential impact on pain, suffering, costs, and mortality associated with this disease," he said.

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