A drug commonly used to treat gallstones can help people who are at high risk for developing colon cancer, according to a University of Arizona study that appeared Tuesday in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
The drug -- known as ursodeoxycholic acid, or UDCA -- has proved to reduce the risk of dangerous precancerous growths in the bowel by nearly 40%. Such growths are most likely to develop into full-fledged colon cancer, a leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S., expected to kill more than 56,000 people this year.
"What we have is a drug that is commercially available, being used regularly, that is now an option for patients who are at very high risk for colon cancer," said David Alberts, M.D., director of the Arizona Cancer Center and lead author of the study, which was part of a $17 million grant from National Cancer Institute to find and test agents capable of preventing colon cancer.
"It is exciting after all these years not only to find out it is effective, but also one of the safest drugs for the digestive tract," Alberts said. "It is extremely well-tolerated, with very few side effects."
Read the study abstract.