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Researchers in Ottawa think they may have found an odd pairing of meds that can boost cancer patients’ immune systems and make recovery more likely. A concoction of flu shot and erectile dysfunction drugs might seem like a cocktail offered to retirement home residents, but doctors have found that it can actually help patients who have undergone cancerous tumour-removal surgery fight off the disease.

According to doctors at The Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, removing a cancerous mass through surgery can weaken the body so much that it cannot produce the disease-fighting cells it needs to in order to fight off any remaining harmful cells. After surgery, chemotherapy is often prescribed to kill any lingering cancer cells but it also wrecks the body’s natural defences. This new drug pairing might be a way to bolster the immune system enough to do the cancer-killing on its own.

“Instead of using toxic drugs that might suppress the immune system, we’re actually trying to use drugs that will boost the immune system so that the patient’s own immune cells can attack the tumours and hopefully eradicate them,” surgical oncologist Dr. Rebecca Auer said of the project.

“Every week I take patients to the operating room and remove their tumours and I know that in some of those patients, the cancer is going to come back,” Auer said, “So if there is a therapy that we had that would allow us to reduce the chance of that happening after surgery and improve cancer outcomes for my patients, I think that would be very exciting.”

The pairing of Cialis — or tadalafil, as it is known medically – and the common flu vaccine works as a one-two punch to boost a patient’s chances of fighting the disease on his or her own. Natural Killer (NK) cells are what the body produces to kill diseases. When a patient undergoes surgery, those cells are reduced by the trauma to the body, increasing the likelihood that cancer cells will be able to re-form into new tumours. The Cialis works to block the cells that inhibit the creation of NK cells post-surgery and the flu vaccine stimulates those NK cells further. In a lab study done with mice, the technique was found to be 90 per cent effective. Mind-blowing.

The Ottawa research team is in the process of doing human medical trials of the treatment in a potentially ground-breaking study. So far, results are promising but Dr. Auer warns that people shouldn’t self-medicate, even though both drugs are widely available and cheap. She says they are still unsure if the treatment will even work in humans and they haven’t yet done enough research to know of any side-effects (other than unintended erections in male patients while on Cialis).

While the treatment is still in early stages, the researchers in Ottawa are optimistic about this possible breakthrough in the battle against cancer.