Pain-Relieving Morphine May Spread Cancer

But drug to counter harmful effect exists
By Jane Yager,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 23, 2009 7:44 AM CST
A syringe   (Shutter Stock)

(Newser) – Morphine, a painkiller often prescribed to ease cancer patients' suffering, may in fact encourage the spread of the disease. A new study suggests that the opiate strengthens blood vessels that deliver oxygen and nutrients to tumors, as well as makes it easier for cancers to invade new tissues and spread, the BBC reports. But the study authors are optimistic that a drug called methylnaltrexone, developed in the 1980s to prevent morphine-induced constipation, could counteract this effect.

"If confirmed clinically, this could change how we do surgical anesthesia for our cancer patients," the head of the study said. "It also suggests potential new applications for this novel class of drugs which should be explored."