It’s hard to imagine.
Some time in the future, a person who has smoked a pack a day for more than 30 years can take an oral treatment and never worry about getting lung cancer. The drug becomes widespread enough to reduce the lung cancer rate and take away its label as the No. 1 cancer killer.
As unbelievable as it may seem, Gerold Bepler, a doctor at H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center, said such a drug is in the development stage.
Bepler was awarded a $3.1-million grant from the National Cancer Institute last week to continue his work on the drug Exisulind, which he said is “designed to prevent lung cancer.”
Exisulind works in a specific way. Bepler said most cells in the lungs that are damaged by smoking eventually die. But the ones that do not die have a high risk of becoming cancerous. Bepler said Exisulind attacks those damaged cells that do not immediately die.
“The thought is what it does, it pushes cells that are slightly abnormal but not cancer toward cell death,” Bepler said. “Ultimately, there are not any left to become cancer.”
Bepler said there is already proof of Exisulind’s effectiveness. Bepler has been testing it on people who are genetically predisposed to colon cancer. The results, Bepler said, have been promising. In many cases, polyps in the colon decreased.
Bepler said the $3.1-million grant will be used to run a five-year study on former smokers. He said he will look for people who have smoked a pack a day for 30 years and are above the age of 45. They must also have quit smoking at least a year ago.
Bepler said he will observe how treatment affects “pre-malignant lesions” in his patients. If Exisulind works properly, he expects those lesions to decrease and disappear.