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Morphine and cancer progression: Hydrogen peroxide points to need for more research

Herbert Bosshart, MD


Background: Morphine is widely used in the management of intractable cancer pain. However, conflicting views exist on two suspected nonanalgesic properties of morphine: suppression of immune function and inhibition of cancer progression.
Methods: In vitro measurement of the tumor growth-inhibiting signaling molecule, hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), released from the cultured acute monocytic leukemia cell line, THP-1, in the presence or absence of morphine.
Results: Morphine at concentrations of 10−8 M significantly reduced H2O2 release from THP-1 cells.
Conclusions: These results provide a proof of concept for morphine’s ability to inhibit H2O2 production and release in a leukemia cell system and point to a possible and as yet unrecognized tumor-promoting effect of morphine. More research is needed to systematically examine this suspected morphine-associated tumor-promoting effect.


morphine, hydrogen peroxide, tumor growth

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