An aspirin a day could keep breast cancer at bay

In In The News by Barbara Jacoby

By: Lizzie Parry


A daily dose of aspirin could help halt the growth of breast cancer, a new study has revealed.

Past research has found the drug to be effective in helping to block the spread of colon, gastrointestinal and prostate cancer, as well as other forms of the disease.

The key, researchers have discovered, is that aspirin helps to ensure the conditions around cancer stem cells are not conducive for reproduction.

Dr Sushanta Banerjee, research director of the Cancer Research Unit at Kansas City Veterans Affairs Medical Center, said aspirin could be used to reduce the risk of secondary tumours five to 10 years after a patient’s initial diagnosis.

He said: ‘In cancer, when you treat the patient, initially the tumour will hopefully shrink.

‘The problem comes five to 10 years down the road when the disease relapses.

‘Cancer has stem cells, or residual cells.

‘These cells have already survived chemotherapy or other cancer treatment and they go dormant until conditions in the body are more favourable for them to again reproduce.

‘When they reappear they can be very aggressive, nasty tumours.’

Dr Banerjee and his team worked to test whether aspirin could alter the molecular signature in breast cancer cells to an extent where they would stop spreading.

They placed breast cancer cells were placed in 96 separate plates and then incubated.

Just over half the cultures were exposed to different doses of acetylsalicylic acid – commonly known as aspirin.

Dr Banerjee said exposure to the drug dramatically increased the rate of cell death.

For those cells that did not die off, many were left unable to grow.

The second part of the study involved analysing more than 20 mice with aggressive tumours. 

For 15 days, half the mice were given the human equivalent of 75 milligrams of aspirin each day – considered a low dose.

At the end of the study period, the tumours were weighed.

Mice that received aspirin had tumours, that were, on average, 47 per cent smaller.

Researchers also conducted experiments to show regular aspirin use can prevent cancer.

An additional group of mice were given the drug for 10 days before exposing them to cancer cells.

After 15 days, those mice had significantly less cancerous growth than the control group.

Dr Banerjee, said: ‘We found aspirin caused these residual cancer cells to lose their self-renewal properties.

‘Basically, they couldn’t grow or reproduce. So there are two parts here.

‘We could give aspirin after chemotherapy to prevent relapse and keep the pressure on, which we saw was effective in both the laboratory and the mouse model, and we could use it preventively.’

Experts suggest patients consult with a doctor before starting a daily aspirin regimen.

The drug is known to thin the blood and increase the risk of gastrointestinal bleeding.

‘Of course there is a risk,’ Dr Banerjee added. ‘But you have to weigh that against the risks of cancer. It’s true this is relatively new and we don’t know all the side effects yet, but this was a very low dose.’

Nevertheless, Dr Banerjee is taking his own medicine. For three years he has been on a daily aspirin regimen with, he says, no ill effects.

Each person, he stresses, should of course check with his or her own health care provider before doing the same.