When patients are diagnosed with glioblastoma, the most aggressive form of brain cancer found in adults, survival is an average of 15 months. Targeted therapies have not proven successful in lengthening survival, but according to a study published in the Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, progesterone has the potential to play a role in therapy against glioblastoma. Lead author Fahim Atif, PhD, and colleagues at Emory University studied mice with glioblastoma, and they found that high doses of the female hormone progesterone impeded tumor growth as well as killed tumor cells. Donald Stein, Atif’s colleague, initially observed that females more readily recover from traumatic brain injury than males. In addition, males are three times more likely to develop primary glioblastoma than females. This initial observation led to two decades of studying the phenomenon and resulted in the discovery that although low concentrations of progesterone trigger glioblastoma tumor growth, high concentrations of progesterone kill tumor cells but not healthy cells. Progesterone antagonist RU496 produced similar results, although evidence suggests the antagonist is more toxic to healthy cells. Stein says more experiments are necessary before human clinical trials with progesterone can begin, but progesterone has the potential to be used in therapeutic combinations with agents such as temozolomide.
The hormone progesterone could become part of therapy against the most aggressive form of brain cancer. High concentrations of progesterone kill glioblastoma cells and inhibit tumor growth when the tumors are implanted in mice, researchers have found. The findings with glioblastoma came out of Emory researchers’ work on progesterone as therapy for traumatic brain injury and more recently, stroke.