Cancer Therapy: Aspirin Stops Cancer Tumors

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Cancer therapy: aspirin could slow tumor growth

Acetylsalicylic acid (ASA) can slow tumor growth and reduce the risk of cancer. British scientists led by Peter M. Rothwell from Oxford University found this out in a meta study. However, the drug, better known as aspirin, also has side effects that should not be neglected.

Wonder weapon aspirin against cancer?
It sounds too good to be true: with an aspirin a day, not only can headaches be dispelled, but according to a meta-study, cardiovascular diseases and cancer can also be prevented. Rothwell and his colleagues analyzed a large amount of data that led to a new evaluation of the general-purpose product. In three studies published in the prestigious journals "The Lancet" and "Lancet Oncology", the researchers affirmed that aspirin appears to reduce the risk of cancer.

For the study, scientists initially analyzed 51 studies in which more than 80,000 subjects took part. The researchers wanted to test the drug's effect on cardiovascular diseases. For this purpose, the study participants were either randomly divided into a group that received aspirin for several years or assigned to the comparison group that took non-active placebos. Then Rothwell and his team re-analyzed the studies to find out whether aspirin prevents cancer and if so, when.

The result of the evaluation showed that the risk of cancer death decreased by 40 percent after five years if aspirin was taken daily. After three years, the groups receiving the drug had 25 percent less cancer. This was true for both men and women.

The statistical connection still has to be checked in reality
As gratifying as the results may seem, it is initially only a static relationship. So far, not much is known about the exact mechanisms of action behind it. The practical results are largely based on mouse models in the Petri dish. From this it could be deduced that aspirin primarily addresses two enzymes. Cox-1 and Cox-2 act as a signal for the formation of so-called prostaglandins - hormone-like substances - in the cell. These prostaglandins are extremely important for tumors because they make them grow faster. If the Cox enzymes are inhibited by aspirin, fewer prostaglandins are available for the cancer cells. The result: tumor growth is slowed down. "We are currently testing which people are best protected against cancer by Cox inhibitors and who are most susceptible to side effects such as gastrointestinal bleeding," explains Prof. Cornelia Ulrich, director of the National Center for Tumor Diseases and scientist at the German Cancer Research Center. "Simply giving all aspirin doesn't make sense. Among other things, our genes determine how great the benefit really is."

Aspirin has numerous side effects
Even an all-purpose product like aspirin is not without side effects. The list in the package insert is long: in addition to nausea and vomiting, heartburn and stomach pain can occur. Allergic reactions and shortness of breath can also occur in asthmatics. The British scientists explain that serious side effects such as heavy bleeding are not often the case because the drug is taken over a long period of time. The risk of life-threatening bleeding increased in the first three years, but then decreased again. According to Rothwell and his colleagues, the benefits of aspirin outweigh them, so that the side effects could be accepted. Cornelia Ulrich disagrees: "I would restrict it to risk groups."

Taking aspirin causes the blood to liquefy, as the blood's platelets are inhibited. This mechanism not only seems to protect against stroke and heart attack, but also helps to reduce the risk of cancer. However, the price for this is an increased tendency to bleed. Bleeding from the stomach in particular can be triggered by aspirin.

Aspirin has been shown to be successfully used in the treatment of intestinal polyps, which are considered a precursor to cancer. Affected people who have already suffered from an intestinal polyp at the age of 60 can reduce the risk of contracting the disease again by about half by means of aspirin. People with pre-stages of esophageal or stomach cancer may also benefit from taking the drug.

Metastasis also restricted by aspirin
Rothwell and his colleagues demonstrated that aspirin reduces metastasis by 30 to 40 percent far from the tumor. "It has already been shown in animal studies, now we can see evidence in humans too," explains Rothwell. "Metastasis formation via the platelets probably plays a role in this." The researchers therefore recommend that doctors not stop taking the drug during cancer therapy, but instead consider whether it can be used in addition to the treatment.

Critical voices call for further studies
Cornelia Ulrich is less euphoric: “On the other hand, the results of the study can also be a little too positive. Perhaps the patients from the studies were more often at the doctor because of side effects, so that cancer was also recognized and treated early on the occasion. Another possibility is that tumors and their precursors bleed faster due to aspirin and are thus found more easily. "However, the expert confirms that inhibitors of the enzyme Cox-2 could soon be used for cancer therapy. Studies are already underway." Aspirin is, however before surgery, because it increases the likelihood of bleeding. ”Alternative remedies could then be more suitable.

Prof. Bernd Mühlbauer, head of clinical pharmacology at the Klinikum Bremen and board member of the drug commission of the German Medical Association, is critical of the study results: “All data on aspirin and cancer come from studies that actually examine the effects on the heart and blood vessels; there is a huge risk of bias. A good study that directly examines the influence of aspirin on cancer would be desired by independent bodies such as the Ministry of Research or the WHO. "(Ag)

Read on:
Study: Aspirin protects against cancer?
Doubts about cancer prevention with ASA
Symptoms of an intolerance to painkillers
Painkillers as the cause of pain?

Image: Rainer Sturm /

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