No matter what type of alcoholic drink that you’re consuming, the main ingredient is always going to be ethanol. Spirits such as vodka, whisky and more are almost entirely made up of ethanol and water. For years, we’ve been told that there’s a link between excessive drinking and cancer, but now there’s a new link between alcohol and cancer that might come as a surprise. Scientists have found that pure ethanol might be able to get rid of cancerous tumors.
At Duke University, researchers wanted to see the effects of ethanol when directly injected into a tumor. To achieve this, researchers had a group of hamsters that developed tumors in their cheek pouches when exposed to DMBA, a powerful carcinogen. After a couple of months, tumors started to form and the team was ready for the experiment.
These specific tumors are known as squamous cell carcinoma, and the first group of hamsters had their tumors injected with pure ethanol. The absolutely pure ethanol didn’t result in the regression of tumors, but researchers didn’t give up there. Using a higher amount of ethanol (four times the volume of the tumor) did result in one-third of tumors regressing within seven days. When mixed with ethyl cellulose, however, things started to become positive.
Researchers used this gelatinous compound, injecting directly into the tumor and found that within just seven days, six of the seven tumors had completely regressed. On the eighth day, the final tumor fully regressed to give the mixture a 100 percent cure rate in the small experiment. The reason that it was effective is because the ethanol ablation destroyed the proteins that surround the tumor in a fibrous capsule, then causes the cells the dehydrate and die completely, as the tumor vanishes.
Now, mixing ethanol with ethyl cellulose to create ethanol ablation is nothing new for some scientists. This method has been used in the treatment of liver cancer, and it’s actually been found to have the same effectiveness as surgery. What really makes people hopeful for the future when it comes to this treatment, however, is how much it costs. On average, people receiving ethanol ablation injections are only paying around $5 per treatment, making it extremely cost effective in a country like the United States where health care costs are out of control in most other areas.
We can’t jump ahead of ourselves and think that we’ve found the cure for cancer, though. The team from Duke University says that there are only certain types of tumors that ethanol ablation would be effective against, and they have to be similar to squamous cell carcinoma by being surrounded by fibrous tissues. Also, the high amount of ethanol needed for this treatment could end up leaking out, which could mean damage to tissues surrounding the tumor, and it takes several treatments to remove the tumor in just one week.
Researchers are hoping that the new form of treatment isn’t just helpful in developed countries like the United States where some can’t afford the expensive cancer treatments, but also in underdeveloped countries where people are often going through cancer without any treatment. The death rate for cancer patients in underdeveloped countries is leaps and bounds higher than developed countries, and the technology simply can’t be put into place to treat cancer in some of these areas. With these cheap injections, scientists might have found at least a ray of hope to treat certain forms of cancer in these countries. In most cases, the injections would be donated as a high volume of ethanol injections would be incredibly low in cost still.
The next step of the process for the research team is to evaluate how the hamsters fare in the long run. Since the tumors weren’t present naturally and only caused by adding carcinogens, the team will focus on existing tumors that formed on their own, as well as monitoring to see if any tumors or signs of cancer return. Still, the future appears to be bright for this low cost treatment.
The research team wrapped up their study by saying that breast cancer is the main focus of future treatment, as it’s the leading cause of cancer related deaths in underdeveloped countries. “Given the general lack of accessibility to surgery or alternative tumor treatments in developing countries and the promising results presented in this study, enhanced ethanol ablation is a promising method to meet the unmet clinical need of rising cancer mortality that challenges healthcare systems in developing countries,” the team concluded.