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Naltrexone's Impact on Cancer Progression and Mortality: A Systematic Review of Studies in Humans, Animal Models, and Cell Cultures

Naltrexone's Impact on Cancer Progression and Mortality: A Systematic Review of Studies in Humans, Animal Models, and Cell Cultures
Publication Type
Journal Article
Research Type
Reported as
December 18, 2020
Karina Liubchenko, Kevin Kordbacheh, Nika Khajehdehi, Tanja Visnjevac, Frederick Ma, James S. Khan, Myles Storey, Alaa Abd-Elsayed & Ognjen Visnjevac
Western University Schulich School of Medicine; 2Bloor Pain Specialists, University of Toronto Mount Sinai Hospital, University of Wisconsin-Madison, McMaster University

BACKGROUND: Naltrexone (NTX) is an opioid antagonist traditionally used as a treatment for alcohol and opioid use disorders, but various studies have documented its involvement in cancer progression, exploring possible anticancer potential, when administered at high doses or as low dose naltrexone (LDN). Herein we present a systematic review of cancer-related outcomes from case reports, clinical trials, and retrospective and prospective studies conducted using cell cultures, animal models, and human subjects receiving NTX/LDN.

METHODS: A systematic search of NTX in cancer therapy was conducted. Outcomes including tumor size and number, latency to tumor development, survival duration, progression of disease, and scan results were assessed in clinical and animal studies, and cell number was used as the outcome measure of culture studies.

RESULTS: Several case reports demonstrate notable survival durations and metastatic resolutions in patients with late stage cancer when administered an average LDN dose of 3–5 mg/day. Animal and cell culture studies suggest an overarching principle of NTX involvement in cancer pharmacophysiology, suggesting that high doses and continuous administration can foster cancer progression, whereas low doses and intermittent treatment may hinder cell proliferation, impede tumorigenesis, and have potential anticancer efficacy.

CONCLUSION: This review emphasizes the value of potential future research on NTX in cancer therapy, and warrants need for a better understanding of underlying mechanisms. Future controlled studies with more robust sample sizes, particularly in humans, are needed to fully elucidate its potential in cancer therapy.

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