Friday, October 28, 2011

Aspirin found to dramatically cut down risk of cancer

Daily intake of aspirin has a beneficial effect in preventing cancer, as shown by a recent study in people with  increased risk on hereditary colorectal cancer, called Lynch syndrome. The participants all have a genetic predisposition that makes them prone to developing colorectal cancer, but in the study group that took daily aspirin, there was a dramatic decrease in cancer development. Even though the researchers focused on people that have a specific genetic disorder increasing the chance on colorectal cancer, they think that a daily dose of aspirin is beneficial for everyone that in some way has an elevated risk on cancer.

The study was conducted on a total of 861 people with Lynch syndrome, who were divided in two groups. During the course of several years, participants either got 300mg of aspirin a day, or a placebo. Overall, 34 new cases of cancer developed in the placebo group 11 years after the start of the study, while the aspirin group showed only 19 new cases of cancer. However, when the researchers looked at the participants that took aspirin daily for over two years, the difference was even more profound: 23 versus 10 new cancers. The study shows aspirin more than halves the risk on colorectal cancer in people with Lynch syndrome.

It can not be concluded from this study that aspirin is a general anti-cancer drug, as the study was not conducted on a general population: the focus was merely on people with a genetic predisposition to a specific form of colorectal cancer. However, it is tempting to hypothesize that aspirin has a general cancer-preventing effect on the body. Also because previous studies have already shown that daily doses of aspirin for over five years reduce the risk on various forms of cancer.

People with Lynch syndrome have an increased risk on developing hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer, as well as other forms of cancer. This is caused by a dysfunctional DNA repair enzyme, often leading to damage in the genetic code that is not repaired, which results in mutations in the genome. When the 'right' (or wrong) mutations arise in the DNA, cells can be become unstable and start growing in an uncontrolled fashion, leading to tumour growth. The chance of obtaining just the right mutations in the billions of pieces that make up our genetic code is small, but because our body contains a lot of cells, the chance is ultimately much bigger.

This study adds to the proof that aspirin can be used as a drug to prevent cancer. Originally, aspirin was developed as an anti-inflammatory drug, used as a minor pain killer. Peculiar enough, after its invention, nobody knew how it worked in the body. Nowadays, the pathways by which aspirin sorts its effect are known, and many more uses for the drug are revealed. For example, it is also found to be beneficial in preventing cardiovascular disease. Though side-effects are also known, aspirin is a safe drug to use, which makes it an easy way to cut down on the risk of developing cancer. Its widespread use makes that we consume about 40,000 ton of the drug each year.

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