By sustaining erections where limpness once prevailed, Viagra has vastly improved the sex lives of many people. But the little blue pill, it turns out, may be useful outside the bedroom as well. In March, researchers discovered that the popular erectile dysfunction drug can play a potentially life-saving role in another body part — the colon.
The scientists, publishing their findings in the journal Cancer Prevention Research, showed that a small daily dose of Viagra played a role in preventing colon cancer, at least in mice.
Using mice engineered to be predisposed to growing colon polyps — abnormal cell clumps that can sometimes become cancerous — the scientists tested whether a small daily dose of Viagra could prevent the development of colon cancer in the mice. Specifically, they were looking at the effect of sildenafil, the active ingredient in Viagra, on the rate of polyp formation. The daily dose, administered through the drinking water of the mice, reduced polyp formation and colon inflammation by 50 percent.
The study built upon previous work suggesting that Viagra inhibits an enzyme in colon cells that boosts cell proliferation. The more that cells multiply, the more opportunities they have to pick up mutations that can lead to cancer, so suppressing cell proliferation. While the researchers don’t know exactly how Viagra is working its magic in these mice just yet, they know that reducing the rate of polyp formation is one promising way to prevent the development of colon cancer (and prevent the painful rectal bleeding that colon polyps cause, whether they’re cancerous or not).
Viagra, for its part, has proven to be useful in solving other medical problems. It’s used to treat premature babies with pulmonary hypertension, a deadly condition in which blood pressure rises in the lungs, and its been shown to help treat prostate cancer when used in tandem with another cancer-fighting drug.
Not that everything went well for Viagra in 2018. An ongoing problem for United States public health experts is the ongoing popularity of vape liquids that contain erectile dysfunction drugs and the danger they pose to users. Not regulated by any medical authority, these widely available vape liquids contain unknown amounts of sildefanil and taladafil (the active ingredient in the erectile dysfunction drug Cialis), which themselves may be counterfeit. One account even claimed it gave a user a two-day erection.