Williams Cancer Institute

Viagra, Cialis and Levitra

Viagra, Cialis and Levitra


What do Post-It notes and Viagra have in common? They both had strange beginnings, and what was initially considered a failing feature, turned out to be the very feature that made them so successful. When a scientist with 3M set out to make a super-strong adhesive, he failed miserably—the adhesive barely stuck. The story of what happened next varies from secretaries using the adhesive-backed strips of paper to affix easily removable notes to their bosses on documents they typed, to someone using them to mark pages in a book. But whatever the story, the qualities that made the adhesive such a failure were the very qualities that made it such a success—it was an adhesive that didn’t stick, at least not for very long. That might not have made it useful for the original intended use, but it made it spectacularly useful for an unintended use.

As for Viagra, the brand name of Sildenfil, it was a drug that was intended to treat hypertension (high blood pressure) and angina (chest pains). It did work for that, but it had a curious side effect—men taking it reported prolonged erections. But what is one man’s side effect, is another man’s happy evening. Patented in 1996 for treatment of hypertension, by 1998 the FDA approved Sildenfil for erectile dysfunction and soon after two other similar drugs for treating erectile dysfunction came along—Cialis and Levitra.

How can they help treat cancer, you ask, and are they safe for women? Yes, they are safe for women and I’ll get to that in a moment, but here’s how they work on your immune system and give you a boost in fighting cancer.

Viagra, Cialis and Levitra are all members of a class of PDE-5 drugs. That means that one of their own “side effects” is that they reduce MDSCs (myeloid-derived suppressor cells), which is exactly what you want if you want your immune system to take on those tumors.

MDSCs are similar to the T regulatory cells we discussed in Chapter 2. Remember how they work as screening agents, determining if something was a friend or foe, and were easily tricked by the clever cancer that pretended to be a friend and belonged in the body? Well, like T regulatory cells, MDSCs also interfere with anti-tumor immunity, and they do so by using L-Arginine metabolism to suppress immunity.17

Arginine is an amino acid critical to a healthy immune system because it is required to activate T cells. But when cancer is present, tumors and regulatory immune cells produce an enzyme called Arginase 1 which breaks down arginine in the tumor microenvironment.

But one thing that controls this process is the Phosphodi- esterase-5 inhibitors, otherwise known as PDE-5. PDE-5inhibitors reduce the myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSCs), and suppress arginase production, which means that tumors have one less ally in their quest to grow and reproduce.

The role MDSCs play in the immune response is a hot topic right now in cancer research, though currently there are no available treatments specifically for controlling them. At present, the best source of PDE-5 and Arginase 1 inhibitorscurrently available are the popular drugs for erectile dysfunction, Viagra, Cialis and Levitra.

And yes, women can take them safely. They haven’t proven to increase arousal as some women (and drug marketers) had hoped, but just as they stimulate blood-flow to the penis, they can stimulate blood-flow to women’s genitals, which can increase sensitivity to stimulation. And that’s not such a bad side effect when the payoff is increasing stimulation of theimmune response for a woman battling cancer.

These drugs, as in any other treatments discussed in this book, need to be taken under the supervision of your physician.Drugs such as Viagra, Cialis and Levitra can cause significant decreases in blood pressure. Patients with low blood pressure may not be able to use them.

Reference: Jason R. Williams, 15 Oct 2019, The Immunotherapy Revolution: The Best New Hope For Saving Cancer Patients’ Lives, https://williamscancerinstitute.com/the-immunotherapy-revolution

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