Talcum powder stunts growth of lung tumors

Jun 06, 2007

Talcum powder has been used for generations to soothe babies’ diaper rash and freshen women’s faces. But University of Florida researchers report the household product has an additional healing power: The ability to stunt cancer growth by cutting the flow of blood to metastatic lung tumors.

The study, published in the European Respiratory Journal in April, reveals that talc stimulates healthy cells to produce endostatin, a hormone considered the magic bullet for treating metastatic lung cancer. The UF researchers say talc is an exciting new therapeutic agent for a cancer largely considered incurable.

“We found, to our surprise, that talc causes tumor growth to slow down and actually decreases the tumor bulk,” said Veena Antony, M.D., a professor of pulmonary medicine and chief of pulmonary and critical care medicine at UF’s College of Medicine. “Talc is able to prevent the formation of blood vessels, thereby killing the tumor and choking off its growth. The tumors appeared to grow much slower and in some cases completely disappeared.”

Scientists have only recently discovered that talcum powder stunts tumor growth, though the mineral has been used for almost 70 years to treat the respiratory problems that accompany metastatic lung cancer. About half of all patients accumulate fluid around the surface of the lungs, a condition known as malignant pleural effusion.

“That fluid can press down upon the lung, impair the breathing of the patient and cause the patient to feel very short of breath,” said Antony.

Pleural effusions indicate that the cancer, which might have started in the breast, lung or gastrointestinal tract, has spread throughout the body. The prognosis for the roughly 200,000 patients afflicted with this condition is poor: Many die within six months.

To make life more bearable for these patients, doctors close the extra space between the lung and the chest wall, where the troublesome fluid collects. The trick is gluing the two surfaces together. Talc is blown into the patients’ chest cavity to irritate the tissue and create tiny abrasions. When the lung tissue heals, it becomes permanently adhered to the chest wall without impairing the patients’ breathing. The effects of the procedure, called medical thoracoscopy with talc pleurodesis, are immediate and last a lifetime.

“Shortness of breath is a horrible way to die,” Antony said. “The procedure spares the patient and the family the misery of watching their loved one suffer. It’s been used very extensively in Europe but it’s had slower acceptance (in the United States), perhaps because of the need to learn a new technology.”

The Food and Drug Administration approved talc for use in medical thoracoscopy in 2003, but UF is one of just a handful of U.S. institutions that perform the outpatient procedure on a routine basis.

Doctors have noticed that patients who undergo medical thoracoscopy with talcum powder live up to 18 months longer than expected. To figure out why, Antony compared lung fluid from 16 patients with malignant pleural effusions before and after doctors dusted their lungs with talc. The results were startling.

“We were surprised to find that talc has added benefits besides causing scarring and taking away the fluid that surrounds the lung,” Antony said. “The cells that cover the lining of the lung are stimulated by the presence of talc to produce a factor that inhibits the growth of blood vessels and kills the tumor cells themselves.”

Less than one day after treatment with talc, patients began producing 10-fold higher levels of endostatin, a hormone released by healthy lung cells. Endostatin prevents new blood vessels from forming, slows cell growth and movement, and even induces nearby tumor cells to commit suicide. All of these make it hard for tumors to grow and spread into healthy lung tissue.

When endostatin was first discovered in 1997, doctors hoped its tumor-fighting properties would lead to a cure for cancer. But clinical trials have been disappointing, possibly because most clinicians have injected the hormone directly into patients. The hormone breaks down in the body before it has a chance to slow the spread of cancer, Antony said.

“It was there, it had a very short half life, it was gone,” Antony said. “What we’ve done is caused the normal pleural mesothelial cells to continue to produce endostatin. Talc doesn’t go away. Talc stays in the chest cavity, constantly causing the normal cells to produce this factor that inhibits the growth of the tumor.”

The antitumor effects of talc appear to be long-lasting, said Antony, who is continuing to investigate the long-term outcomes of patients who have undergone talc pleurodesis.

“It surprised us that such a cheap, easily available product, such an old-fashioned product, can have benefits to the patient and perhaps prolong the patient’s life,” Antony said.

Yossef Aelony, M.D., a clinical professor of respiratory and critical care medicine at the Harbor-University of California at Los Angeles Medical Center, said the UF findings are an important milestone.

“This work will undoubtedly have a significant influence on future clinical trials dealing with the treatment of pleural malignancies, including lung cancer, mesothelioma and metastatic adenocarcinoma involving the pleural surfaces,” Aelony said.

Source: University of Florida

Explore further: Sierra Leone, Liberia brace for new Ebola cases

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

A 3D-printed laptop prepared for crowdfunding campaign

6 minutes ago

Using PLA filament, a small London-based team have managed to achieve the 3D printing of their own Raspberry-Pi-based laptop, with a battery life of six to eight hours and Wi-Fi enabled out of the box. They ...

Paraffins to cut energy consumption in homes

45 minutes ago

Thermal energy storage is a common strategy in energy production systems in which the period of production does not coincide with that of consumption. This happens with the production of hot water by means ...

Getting to the root of the problem in space

45 minutes ago

When we go to Mars, will astronauts be able to grow enough food there to maintain a healthy diet? Will they be able to produce food in NASA's Orion spacecraft on the year-long trip to Mars? How about growing ...

Recommended for you

US warns Ebola could infect 1.4 million by 2015

26 minutes ago

The number of Ebola infections in Liberia and Sierra Leone could skyrocket to 1.4 million by January 2015, according to a worst-case scenario released by US health authorities Tuesday.

Team finds method for more precise diagnosis of pneumonia

49 minutes ago

A patient survives life-threatening trauma, is intubated in the intensive care unit (ICU) to support his or her affected vital functions, starts to recover, and then develops pneumonia. It's a scenario well-known to physicians, ...

Screen women for chlamydia, gonorrhea, experts say

2 hours ago

(HealthDay)—All sexually active women should be screened for two of the most common sexually transmitted infections: chlamydia and gonorrhea, according to new recommendations from the U.S. Preventive Services ...

Noninvasive devices may help migraines, FDA says

2 hours ago

(HealthDay)—Two new prescription devices approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may provide some relief for people with migraine headaches who don't tolerate migraine medications well, ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

gdpawel
not rated yet Dec 21, 2007
I can understand the disbelief that endostatin clinical trials had been disappointing, because most clinicians had injected the hormone directly into patients, where the hormone broke down in the body before it had a chance to slow the spread of cancer. But researchers like Dr. Veena Antony "rethought" the situation by allowing talc in the chest cavity, thus constantly causing the normal cells to produce endostatin, inhibiting the growth of tumors.

Thanks to scientists like Dr. Antony that took the time to think through "whiz bang" science that often gets a pass without much thought. The problem is that few scientific discoveries work the way we think and few physicians/scientists take the time to think through what it is they're discovered. Good work University of Florida! I genuinely believe that there is more to Talc poudrage than is commonly recognized. Perhaps because it is easily available and cheap, and it has not had the press it deserves!!

When my wife was first treated for ovarian cancer back in 1972, she presented with DVT and pulmonary embolism associated with her malignancy. Persistent effusion showed malignant cells on thoracentesis. She had a total abdominal hysterectomy and pill-dose Chlorambucil (Leukeren) treatment. She had talc placed into the lung walls for them to adhere to the lining and keep them from collapsing.

Twenty-four years later, she developed a metastatic transdiaphragmatic tumor from the original cancer with attachment to the lung and other midline structures of the chest. Parts of those structures were surgically resected. I remember the throacic surgical oncologist telling me the talc oozed down to the bottom of the cavity and was as hard as rock. She had to literally use a hammer and chisle to clean it all out.

It seems that her twenty-four year ride without any recurrence gives the University of Florida study some credence. Would she have gone twenty-four years without this talc?