A drug used to treat multiple sclerosis (MS) has been linked to an increased risk of colorectal cancer and leukemia.
People who were treated with Novantrone (mitoxantrone), had colorectal cancer rates that were 3x higher than the general population, according to an analysis by German researchers. Even more disturbing, the rate of leukemia in patients that took mitoxantrone was 10x higher than the general population of Germany
However, for breast cancer and other types of cancer, people who had taken mitoxantrone were no more likely to develop those diseases than the general population.
German researchers, led by Mathias Buttmann, MD, of the University of Würzburg, examined 676 people with MS treated with Novantrone from 1994 to 2007 and followed them until 2010. 37 people (5.5%) were diagnosed with cancer after taking the drug: 9 people with breast cancer, 4 with colorectal cancer and 4 with acute myeloid leukemia. Results were published in the journal Neurology.
3 out of the 7 people with colorectal cancer died from the cancer during the study, while the 4 people with leukemia went into remission after treatment and remained alive through the study’s conclusion.
Incidentally, Novantrone is also approved as a chemotherapy agent to treat breast cancer, leukemia and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Factors such as how much Novantrone and whether patients were taking another immunosuppressant drug were also looked at to see if they influenced the risk of developing cancer. However, only being older when starting the drug was associated with a higher risk of developing cancer.
“Despite an increased risk of acute myeloid leukemia and colorectal cancer, the overall rate of cancer was low enough to justify still using this drug for people severely affected by MS if no better treatment is available,” Buttmann said in a statement. “Novantrone is the only approved treatment for people with secondary progressive MS without relapses and should be considered in people where the disease is evolving quickly.
“Also, many of the new and highly effective MS drugs are not available to people in a number of countries for economic reasons, so Novantrone is being used for people with very active relapsing forms of the disease.”