Patients should try to defeat cancer

Methadone - so far no proven benefit in cancer treatment

What is methadone?

Methadone is a man-made one Opioid. So a substance that is similar to opium. That is why it is used in a similar way to opium: On the one hand, to replace heroin. On the other hand, to treat severe pain when those affected cannot tolerate other opioids. That is why methadone has been used for a long time. Especially when it comes to side effects and risks.

Methadone as a cancer drug?

Researchers are constantly discovering new uses for old active ingredients. This is not unusual. For active substances similar to opium, experts are currently discussing whether they might be effective against cancer cells. Laboratory tests provide the first signs of this. This not only affects methadone, but also other opioids.

However, a suspicion from the laboratory is not enough for an active substance to be used regularly. Because a person is a complicated living being. It "works" differently than individual cells in a glass bowl:

  • Experts estimate: Of around 5,000 to 10,000 substances for which "signs" of a benefit are found in the laboratory, only one is really effective in humans.

Reports of "successful" treatments - what is it?

Stories of patients whose cancer was allegedly successfully treated with methadone are currently making the rounds in the media. Here it is important to check how reliable these reports are. To do this, they must be published in a way that others can verify. Oral narration is not a good source of research.

So far there are only a few publications on this. They do not allow any definite statements as to whether they can be used to treat cancer:

  • A very small study with 27 patients tested whether methadone is tolerated at all together with chemotherapy. It was not investigated whether it was effective.

  • Two very small, inadequate studies have observed cancer patients switching to methadone for pain management. It has not shown any effect against cancer.

It remains unclear whether methadone works against cancer.

How good do studies have to be?

Tests with drugs have to meet high requirements. Stories about those affected who feel better after treatment do not help. Because you don't know whether they would have been better off without the treatment. In order to reliably demonstrate an effect, a study must look like this:

  • Two groups of patients have to be compared: one who receives the new active ingredient and one who receives a dummy drug.

  • The patients must be randomly assigned to the two groups.

  • The patients and the treating physicians must not know who is receiving which treatment.

  • Otherwise, the patient groups must be treated in exactly the same way.

  • The patient groups must be large enough.

Are there any good studies for methadone?

Such studies have not yet been carried out for methadone in cancer treatment. A high-quality study is currently being launched. It takes a long time to get reliable results.

As long as the benefit is completely unclear, methadone should not be used against cancer. Because even if it seems like a straw for some people in a difficult situation: methadone can cause damage. You know that for sure.

What do you know about the damage?

Methadone has long been used to treat addiction or pain. That is why we know from experience with a large number of patients what side effects it can cause.

  • Dangerous cardiac arrhythmias can occur.

  • The respiratory drive can be dampened. Then the body is less well supplied with oxygen. This can damage the organs.

  • The body may retain water or become constipated.

  • A dangerous overdose can result.

  • Methadone can adversely affect the way other cancer drugs work.

  • There is evidence that methadone may even increase mortality.

Experts advise against methadone

Scientific medical societies unanimously warn against the use of methadone in cancer. According to the data currently available, they do not see sufficient evidence of a benefit, but evidence of harm.

What you can do yourself

  • If you are affected: Do not forego an effective treatment for methadone under any circumstances. Ask for detailed information about the benefits and harms of treatment.

  • Review reports critically. Anyone who promises an effect without side effects is not trustworthy. Neither does anyone who proves effectiveness with experience reports.

  • Find out from reliable sources. These include:

October 2017, published by the German Medical Association and the National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians