Aspirin can 'cuts risk of death from breast cancer', Harvard study finds
Published 18/02/2010 | 12:02
Aspirin could halve the risk of dying from breast cancer, a groundbreaking 30 year study has found.
The study found women who took aspirin twice a week cut the risk of dying from breast cancer by 71 per cent.
Harvard Medical School researchers also found they were 60 per cent less likely to have their cancer spread.
The researchers followed 238,000 nurses, 4,000 of whom developed breast cancer, as part of the long-running Nurses' Health Study - an ongoing analysis of a wide range of health issues in the US.
"This is the first study to find that aspirin can significantly reduce the risk of cancer spread and death for women who have been treated for early stage breast cancer," said Dr Michelle Holmes, who led the study.
"If these findings are confirmed in other clinical trials, taking aspirin may become another simple, low-cost and relatively safe tool to help women with breast cancer live longer, healthier lives.”
Dr Holmes, associate professor of medicine and epidemiology at Harvard Medical School, stressed patients should not take aspirin while undergoing radiation or chemotherapy because of the risk of side effects.
Aspirin can also cause stomach bleeding so it should not be taken without a doctor's supervision, she added.
Researchers, reporting in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, studied 4,164 female nurses who had been diagnosed with early stage breast cancer.
They started in 1976, studying those who took aspirin, and watching for breast cancer and all causes of death until 2006.
Over this time, 341 of the nurses died of breast cancer.
Women who took aspirin two to five days a week had a 60 per cent reduced risk of their cancer spreading and a 71 percent lower risk of breast cancer death.
Six to seven aspirins a week lowered the risk of spread by 43 per cent and the risk of breast cancer death by 64 percent.
Most of the women taking low-dose aspirin were using it to prevent heart attacks and stroke.
Other drugs in the same class as aspirin also apparently lowered the risks.
These drugs, called non-steroidal inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs, include ibuprofen and naproxen but not acetaminophen, also known as paracetamol.
The researchers admitted there was not enough data on these drugs to give a clear answer.
The researchers said they are not sure how aspirin and other NSAIDS may affect tumours but it could be by lowering inflammation.
Other studies have shown that aspirin and ibuprofen can lower colon cancer risk, for instance.
"Aspirin has relatively benign adverse effects compared with cancer chemotherapeutic drugs and may also prevent colon cancer, cardiovascular disease, and stroke," the researchers said.
It affected both estrogen-positive tumors and those not fueled by the hormone.
Lori Pierce, of the American Society of Clinical Oncology's cancer communications committee, described the study's findings as "promising"
"If they are confirmed in additional clinical trials, physicians may be able to regularly recommend aspirin to their breast cancer patients to reduce risk of cancer spread and mortality," she said.
She said several studies have suggested that aspirin may have beneficial effects against cancer because of its anti-inflammatory effects.
"But aspirin can cause stomach bleeding and is not for everyone," she added.
Ed Yong, head of health information at Cancer Research UK, added: "Several studies have found that taking aspirin and other related drugs is associated with a lower risk of breast cancer, and this new study suggests that they might also help to stop cancer from spreading and improve a woman's chances of survival.
"But aspirin has risks as well as benefits... So we need large clinical trials to see if it can really save lives from breast cancer, and, if so, to work out what doses to use and how long to use the drugs for."