Mood-Stabilizing Rx Tied to Lower Risk of Some Cancers

Valproic acid and head and neck cancer explored in new study of mood stabilizing medication

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Mood-stabilizing medications are used to treat mental or neurological conditions, but a new study suggested that one of these medications might have an unexpected effect — preventing cancer.

This new study looked at the use of one mood stabilizer, valproic acid, and cancer risk in a large sample of US Veterans.

This study found that use of valproic acid was associated with a reduced risk of developing head and neck cancer.

"Ask your doctor about ways to reduce cancer risk."

Valproic acid is a type of medication called a "mood-stabilizer" that is used to treat a number of conditions, including some types of seizures, mania in patients with bipolar disorder and to prevent migraine headaches, according to the US National Library of Medicine.

This new study, led by Johann Christoph Brandes, MD, PhD, of the Department of Medicine at the Atlanta Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Georgia, set out to examine if valproic acid had any effect on the risk of developing several different kinds of cancer.

These researchers used data from the National Veterans Affairs (VA) system from 2002 to 2008 to identify 439,628 patients over the age of 40. Of these patients, 26,911 had valproic acid prescriptions filled for over one year, prescribed for conditions like bipolar disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), migraines and seizures.

These patients were followed for an average of 4.4 years.

The valproic acid group was slightly younger, with an an average age of 59.4 years, compared with an average age of 61.4 among the non-users. Both groups had similar smoking histories — around 51 percent were former smokers, 49 percent were current smokers and 18 percent had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Both groups were 92.8 percent male.

After analyzing the data, Dr. Brandes and team found that those who used valproic acid had a 34 percent reduced risk of developing cancer of the head and neck. Cancer of the head and neck can involve areas like the throat, voicebox and oral cavity.

Dr. Brandes and team found that the risk reduction was greatest after using valproic acid for three years.

The researchers found no link between valproic acid use and risk for cancer of the lung, bladder, colon or prostate.

Further research is needed to confirm these findings among a more diverse group of participants, and to further explore the potential involvement of head and neck cancer risk factors like smoking and alcohol use.

This study was published online March 24 in the journal Cancer. One of the study's authors reported receiving personal fees from a number of pharmaceutical companies, including Aveo, Genentech, Teva and AstraZeneca.

Review Date: 
March 25, 2014
Last Updated:
March 25, 2014