Ounce of prevention?
shows aspirin may cut risk of breast cancer in women by as much as 30
BY DELTHIA RICKS
May 26, 2004
Aspirin, the old medicine
cabinet standby that keeps heart attacks at
bay, may reduce by as much as 30 percent the risk for the most common
form of breast cancer, researchers reported yesterday in a study of
Long Island women.
Nearly 3,000 participants in the Long Island Breast Cancer Study
Project detailed their use of over-the-counter pain relievers.
"This study suggests that the
use of aspirin daily or close to daily
prevents breast cancer," said Dr. Alfred Neugut, co-director of the
cancer prevention program at New York-Presbyterian Hospital in
Manhattan, and a lead investigator of the analysis.
provocative findings, reported during a news conference at Columbia
University's College of Physicians and Surgeons and in today's Journal
of the American Medical Association, Neugut and colleagues would not
endorse aspirin as a breast cancer preventive. "We are not
universal aspirin use," he said. Neugut added that
don't have sufficient data on an appropriate preventive dose. In
addition, aspirin can cause gastrointestinal bleeding, and some people
suffer severe allergic reactions. Benefits without knowing
The research team underscored that women who are taking an aspirin a
day to prevent heart attack and stroke already may be benefitting.
Mary Beth Terry, co-lead investigator, said the study "found a
protective association of 20 percent" in women who took the lowest
doses of aspirin. But those who took seven or more tablets per week
reduced their risk by as much as 30 percent, Terry said.
study was primarily retrospective - a review of existing data to arrive
at the new conclusion. The research also included interviews in which
women had to rely on their memories regarding what medications they had
taken in the past.
Several analyses are now under way in which
researchers actively monitor the amount of aspirin and other analgesics
women are taking.
Although previous studies produced mixed
results about aspirin's ability to stave off breast cancer, the new
findings are the first to show how the drug inhibits a chemical
mechanism that can trigger cancer growth in post-menopausal women.
Research reported last year demonstrated that aspirin and its chemical
cousins can thwart colorectal tumors.
Dr. Andrew Dannenberg of
Cornell Weill Medical College in Manhattan, the researcher who
deciphered the molecular mechanisms underlying aspirin's protective
effects, said additional studies are under way to test the new study's
strengths. He is convinced that results so far are solid, saying "this
is a feather in the cap of basic science."
Often called a
miracle drug, aspirin appears to thwart tumor development by inhibiting
enzymes known as COX (cyclooxygenase) 1 and 2. Suppressing those
molecules in post-menopausal women is important, Dannenberg said,
because of their role in molecular events that can trigger hormone
production in fat cells. COX 1 and 2 are also involved in the processes
of inflammation, Dannenberg said, which is also being considered as
having a role in cancer development.
He added that aspirin's
chemical cousins - ibuprofen, naproxen sodium and the prescription
anti-inflammatories Vioxx and Celebrex - may have comparable
Neugut said estrogen or
progesterone - the two key female hormones - spur hormone-dependent
breast cancer, which account for 70 percent to 75 percent of all cases.
Aspirin apparently has no preventive effects on non-hormone
dependent disease, the study found. The
American Cancer Society
estimates that more than 200,000 women this year will develop breast
Dr. Raymond Dubois, director of cancer prevention at
Vanderbilt University's cancer center, who was not involved in the
study, said the aspirin research suggests that at least "one subset of
breast cancers may be more responsive to a particular prevention
strategy than others."
Await further results
A major Long Island advocacy group is advising women to await
confirmatory results. Hillary Rutter, director of the Adelphi
University Breast Cancer Program, said while the findings are
intriguing, doctors need to provide conclusive data.
it's true," Rutter said. "But I think we have to be cautious. This is
not a definitive study. There are a number of factors that come into
play with breast cancer. I can't imagine that one simple treatment will
cut all of our risk."
Aspirin is one of the most successful
pharmaceutical agents in history. Doctors estimate that 80 million
tablets are consumed daily in the United States.
were asked about their use of aspirin, ibuprofen and acetaminophen.
Although a pain-relieving analgesic, acetaminophen does not act on the
same chemical pathways as NSAIDs, and therefore, does not appear to
the team analyzed data from 1,442 breast cancer patients and 1,430
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