Cough Medicine Ingredient May Help Prevent Prostate Cancer


A non-addictive derivative of opium that is used in over-the-counter cough medicine may help prevent prostate cancer. Noscapine, which has been on the market since the 1950s, may soon find its way into a whole new treatment area of medicine.

In the 1960s, some experts suggested that noscapine be explored as a cancer-fighting agent, but it has taken decades for significant research to occur. Part of that effort has occurred with a research team composed of individuals from the Prostate Cancer Research and Education Foundation (PCREF), the MedInsight Research Institute, and the University of California San Diego, who conducted the new preliminary study.

Twenty mice were divided into two groups, with one group receiving 300 mg/kg/day of noscapine for 56 days and the other group receiving a placebo. Both groups of mice were injected with prostate cancer cells. Tumor growth in the noscapine-treated mice was two-thirds less than in the placebo group.


The rate of cancer spread (metastasis) to the lungs was 80 percent less in the noscapine-treated mice than in the control group. Treated mice also did not experience any cancer-related weight loss, while the control mice lost a significant amount of weight.

Prostate cancer was diagnosed in more than 192,000 men in the United States in 2009, and an estimated 27,360 men died of the disease, according to the National Cancer Institute. Although prostate surgery or radiation is successful in many men, 30 to 40 percent experience a recurrence of the disease.

The study’s authors concluded that as a preventive measure, noscapine provides significant benefits in cases of prostate cancer. Their next step is to administer noscapine to patients who have undergone surgery or radiation for prostate cancer.

Dr. Israel Barken, founder and medical director of the PCREF and one of the study’s investigators, noted that based on their results, “we believe that noscapine could be a very promising treatment to prevent recurrence in such cases due to its excellent safety record and oral bioavailability.” In the near future, a cough medicine ingredient may be a new player in the fight against prostate cancer.

Barken I et al. Anticancer Research 2010 Mar; 30(2): 399-402
National Cancer Institute