The use of albendazole and mebendazole, i.e., benzimidazole broad-spectrum anthelmintics, in treatment of parasitic infections, as well as cancers, is briefly reviewed. These drugs are known to block the microtubule systems of parasites and mammalian cells leading to inhibition of glucose uptake and transport and finally cell death. Eventually they exhibit ovicidal, larvicidal, and vermicidal effects on parasites, and tumoricidal effects on hosts. Albendazole and mebendazole are most frequently prescribed for treatment of intestinal nematode infections (ascariasis, hookworm infections, trichuriasis, strongyloidiasis, and enterobiasis) and can also be used for intestinal tapeworm infections (taeniases and hymenolepiasis). However, these drugs also exhibit considerable therapeutic effects against tissue nematode/cestode infections (visceral, ocular, neural, and cutaneous larva migrans, anisakiasis, trichinosis, hepatic and intestinal capillariasis, angiostrongyliasis, gnathostomiasis, gongylonemiasis, thelaziasis, dracunculiasis, cerebral and subcutaneous cysticercosis, and echinococcosis). Albendazole is also used for treatment of filarial infections (lymphatic filariasis, onchocerciasis, loiasis, mansonellosis, and dirofilariasis) alone or in combination with other drugs, such as ivermectin or diethylcarbamazine. Albendazole was tried even for treatment of trematode (fascioliasis, clonorchiasis, opisthorchiasis, and intestinal fluke infections) and protozoan infections (giardiasis, vaginal trichomoniasis, cryptosporidiosis, and microsporidiosis). These drugs are generally safe with few side effects; however, when they are used for prolonged time (>14-28 days) or even only 1 time, liver toxicity and other side reactions may occur. In hookworms, Trichuris trichiura, possibly Ascaris lumbricoides, Wuchereria bancrofti, and Giardia sp., there are emerging issues of drug resistance. It is of particular note that albendazole and mebendazole have been repositioned as promising anti-cancer drugs. These drugs have been shown to be active in vitro and in vivo (animals) against liver, lung, ovary, prostate, colorectal, breast, head and neck cancers, and melanoma. Two clinical reports for albendazole and 2 case reports for mebendazole have revealed promising effects of these drugs in human patients having variable types of cancers. However, because of the toxicity of albendazole, for example, neutropenia due to myelosuppression, if high doses are used for a prolonged time, mebendazole is currently more popularly used than albendazole in anti-cancer clinical trials.
Keywords: Albendazole; cestode; drug resistance; liver toxicity; mebendazole; nematode; review; trematode.