Cancer drug found effective as abortion inducer

December 17, 1993|By Knight-Ridder Newspapers

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- A cancer drug already on the U.S. market for years has been found in a small San Francisco study to do everything the "abortion drug," RU-486, does -- and it may be cheaper.

The drug, methotrexate, caused an abortion in all 10 women in the study, along with minor short-term side effects. The study's author, Dr. Mitchell Creinin of the University of California, San Francisco, said he had begun larger studies to ascertain the drug's effectiveness and safety.

Once a drug has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use against any disease -- in this case, cancer -- doctors have the authority to prescribe it for any use. But Dr. Creinin and others warned against using methotrexate to induce abortions before large-scale studies confirm its safety.

"These small-scale studies are encouraging in terms of effectiveness," said Jacqueline Forrest, vice president of research at Alan Guttmacher Institute in New York. But she warned that much bigger tests were needed to know if methotrexate is as safe and effective as the small study suggests.

If it does prove to be both, demand is likely to be high, she said. JTC "There are women who would much prefer if they're going to have an abortion, they'd rather have it by swallowing something or getting an injection."

Methotrexate is made by a U.S. manufacturer, Lederle Laboratories, and is commonly prescribed to treat cancer. In high doses it can cause anemia and damage to lungs, liver and kidneys. But in low doses, as were used in the abortion study, it is safe, Dr. Creinin said.

Researchers noted as far back as 1952 that methotrexate could induce abortion because it is toxic to tissue that lines the pregnant womb. Today, it is also commonly used to end ectopic pregnancies -- where an embryo begins to grow outside the womb, endangering a woman's life.

Although the drug induced complete abortions in all 10 women in the small study, it could still prove less than 100 percent effective in a larger study.

"The harm could come from procedures if they're incomplete," Dr. Creinin said. In such cases, a woman may require surgery to remove all fetal tissue.

A spokeswoman for National Right to Life said the anti-abortion group would oppose the use of methotrexate to induce abortions.

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