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Inexpensive and available without prescription, aspirin is a miracle drug of sorts. It relieves our headaches, reduces fevers, and improves heart health. A new study suggests it may even reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence when used regularly.
Using information from the Nursesâ€™ Health Study, researchers analyzed 4,164 women diagnosed with stage I, II or III breast cancer between 1976 and 2002. Compared with women who reported no aspirin use, those who took aspirin two to five days per week after completing treatment were about 60% less likely to have a recurrence and 71% less likely to die from the disease. The benefit was decreased among women who took aspirin one or fewer days a week or six to seven days a week.
These findings are surprising, because several previous large studies showed that regular use of aspirin had no effect on first-time breast cancers. These results suggest that the process of breast cancer metastasis might be different than the development of an original breast cancer tumor, and that aspirinâ€™s anti-inflammatory benefits may somehow disable cancer cells. In the laboratory, aspirin has been shown to inhibit metastasis of breast tumor cells, which typically produce more inflammatory chemicals than healthy breast cells.
Although promising, this study is preliminary and doesnâ€™t prove that aspirin is ready to be declared an effective or safe treatment to reduce recurrence. Because the study was observationalâ€”researchers only noted which patients developed cancer over the years, and which took aspirin or notâ€”there is no way of knowing whether the aspirin or something else decreased rates of recurrence and death. Randomized trials are needed to pursue the aspirin-breast cancer connection.
Long-term use of aspirin, even low doses, can cause serious side effects, including ulcers, stomach bleeding and organ damage, and doctors advise breast cancer patients to avoid using aspirin and other anti-inflammatory medications during radiation and chemotherapy. If youâ€™re a breast cancer survivor, talk to your doctor about the benefits and risks of taking aspirin. If youâ€™re taking aspirin for other health reasons, you might also be getting the benefit of reduced recurrence.
Read the study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
March 19, 2010