Nicotine promotes the spread, or metastasis, of lung cancer cells into the brain, according to Wake Forest School of Medicine researchers.
As many as 40 percent of lung cancer patients develop metastatic brain tumors, and most live less than six months. Researchers examined 281 lung cancer patients and discovered cigarette smokers had significantly higher incidences of brain cancer.
Using mice, researchers found nicotine contributed to brain metastasis. Nicotine changed the microglia, an immune cell found in the brain, from being protective to supporting tumor growth.
During the next step in the study, researchers looked for drugs that might reverse the effects of nicotine. The researchers found parthenolide, a naturally occurring substance in the medicinal herb feverfew, blocked nicotine-induced brain metastasis in the mice.
Dr. Kounosuke Watabe, professor of cancer biology at Wake Forest School of Medicine and lead author of the study, said he believes parthenolide may fight brain metastasis, especially for patients who did or still do smoke.
“Currently, the only treatment for this devastating illness is radiation therapy,” Watabe said. “Traditional chemotherapy drugs can’t cross the blood-brain barrier, but parthenolide can, and thus holds promise as a treatment or possibly even a way to prevent brain metastasis.”