Published Online: Monday, May 1, 2006

The results of 2 large studies show that the arthritis drug Celebrex dramatically lowered the risk of colon cancer in patients prone to the disease. Although a drug could prevent colon cancer, the researchers cautioned that problems with side effects, such as increased risks of heart attacks and strokes, need consideration before the approach could become routine.

A 3-year clinical trial that compared Celebrex with sugar pills showed that the development of colon tumors was reduced by as much as 45%. All of the patients had had polyps of the colon removed previously. Of the participants, 61% receiving sugar pills developed colon tumors, compared with 16% on a high dose of Celebrex, reported Monica Bertagnolli, MD, a leader of one of the trials.

In Dr. Bertagnolli's study, 679 patients received placebo. Approximately 685 patients took 400 mg of Celebrex daily while 671 received 800 mg daily. The results of the trial indicated that patients taking the placebo had a 1% risk of serious cardiovascular problems over the 3-year trial. The rate of such side effects increased to 2.5% in patients on 400 mg of Celebrex and 3.5% on the 800-mg dose. She said that an analysis of the patients in the study showed that those with serious cardiovascular health problems had higher rates of problems in both the placebo and the Celebrex groups.

Although preliminary, the analysis pointed to the chance that patients at higher risk for heart problems could be identified ahead of time.The research was presented recently at the American Association for Cancer Research meeting.

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