A drug that freezes your face could also save your life. Botox works by blocking communication between nerves and muscles. When a Botox-laden muscle can no longer contract, wrinkles disappear. This same chain reaction could help prevent tumor growth. When the drug impacts the vagus nerve, it can't deliver messages to cancer cells to tell them to grow.
More than a stop sign for tumors: Blocking nerve signals doesn't just stop tumors in their tracks. The treatment also makes cancer cells more responsive to chemotherapy, which helps prevent cells from reproducing.
Better than chemo? We don't know yet as the treatment isn't ready to be issued outside of clinical trials. However, unlike chemo, which can take a full day and leave patients feeling fatigued and nauseous, Botox causes few side effects and is significantly less expensive. Plus, the drugs can be applied exclusively to the area in need of treatment. The entire procedure could take place in a few hours. A combination of Botox and chemotherapy - as opposed to chemo alone - boosted survival rates in mice by up to 35%.
"It actually surprised us," Norwegian University of Science and Technology's Duan Chen, who co-authored the paper describing the treatment, told the Telegraph. "The finding that Botox was highly effective was particularly exciting."
Doctors tried out a host of other treatments before using Botox to freeze nerves that communicate with tumors. They cut nerves that sent signals to the cancer cells, drugged patients with a chemical that could prevent the nerve from signaling to the cells and knocked out a gene that played a role in nerve-to-cell communication.
Botox was the clear tumor-stopping winner.
Stomach cancer could be just the beginning: The researchers are starting to study the drug's use to treat other tumors, such as in prostate cancer. They'll test their findings on people for the first time soon during a clinical trial in Norway.
Why it matters: This year alone, close to 600,000 Americans will die of cancer — 11,000 of them of stomach cancer. If the new drug pasts the second round of tests, Botox treatment could begin saving the lives of thousands.