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J Natl Cancer Inst. 1998 Aug 19;90(16):1212-8.

Effect of alpha-difluoromethylornithine on rectal mucosal levels of polyamines in a randomized, double-blinded trial for colon cancer prevention.

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Department of Medicine, Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of California, Irvine, USA.



Polyamines (e.g., putrescine, spermidine, and spermine) are required for optimal cell growth. Inhibition of polyamine synthesis suppresses carcinogen-induced epithelial cancers, including colon cancer, in animal models. In a short-term phase IIa trial, we determined that low doses of alpha-difluoromethylornithine (DFMO), an inhibitor of ornithine decarboxylase (an enzyme involved in polyamine synthesis), reduced the polyamine content of normal-appearing rectal mucosa of subjects with a prior history of resected colon polyps. In a follow-up study, we have attempted to determine the lowest dose of DFMO that can suppress the polyamine content of rectal mucosa over a course of 1 year with no or minimal side effects.


Participants were randomly assigned to daily oral treatment with a placebo or one of three doses (0.075, 0.20, or 0.40 g/m2) of DFMO. Baseline and serial determinations of polyamine levels in rectal mucosa and extensive symptom monitoring (including audiometric measurements, since DFMO causes some reversible hearing loss at higher doses) were performed over a 15-month period.


DFMO treatment reduced putrescine levels in a dose-dependent manner. Following 6 months of treatment, doses of 0.20 and 0.40 g/m2 per day reduced putrescine levels to approximately 34% and 10%, respectively, of those observed in the placebo group. Smaller decreases were seen in spermidine levels and spermidine:spermine ratios. Polyamine levels increased toward baseline values after discontinuation of DFMO. Although there were no statistically significant differences among the dose groups with respect to clinically important shifts in audiometric thresholds and nonaudiologic side effects, statistically significant higher dropout and discontinuation rates were observed in the highest dose group.


Polyamine levels in rectal mucosa can be continuously suppressed by daily oral doses of DFMO that produce few or no side effects. A dose of 0.20 g/m2 can be used safely in combination phase IIb or single-agent phase III chemoprevention trials.

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