Digoxin, which has used for decades to treat heart failure, may also have the potential to significantly lower the risk of developing prostate cancer (PCa), according to researchers.

Researchers identified drugs that could be used to treat PCa in a process called drug repositioning. “If you use drugs that are already available then you have a long history of safety research that does not necessarily need to be redone, and we can move more quickly to testing whether the drug will actually work in a new setting,” said researcher Elizabeth Platz, ScD, MPH, Professor of Epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

In the first stage, researchers conducted an in vitro prostate cancer toxicity screen of 3,187 compounds, and digoxin emerged as a leading candidate due to its potency in inhibiting cell proliferation. In the second stage, the epidemiology team examined the drug’s use in a cohort of 47,884 men who were followed from 1986 to 2006. Regular digoxin users had a 24% lower risk of PCa andthose who had used the drug for more than 10 years had a 46% reduced risk.

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Digoxin alters enzymatic pathways for sodium and potassium in heart cells, and according to researchers, it may also have a similar effect on the same or different pathways in prostate cancer. Dr. Platz’s group published their findings in Cancer Discover, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.