Breast cancer survivors who made aspirin a regular habit were 71 percent less likely to have a deadly recurrence of their breast cancer compared to those who were taking little or no aspirin.
No Hype - Big news
Without much fanfare, the Nurses' Health Study was published a few days ago. It is big news. A drug has been tested and found to be very effective for controlling the spread of breast cancer. If this drug was a new wonder drug, there would be a lot of publicity touting this study. But this drug is the as old and as generic as they come - aspirin. Taking a single aspirin tablet--a baby aspirin or one adult pill--every other day can be lifesaving for breast cancer survivors.
Three Decades of Data
The study followed 4,164 breast cancer survivors over a period from 1976 to 2006, assessing in detail their use of aspirin. The long-term, low-dose aspirin program was initiated a year or more after the cancer diagnosis as an add-on to treatment, not as a substitute for it, to control the spread of tumor cells silently left behind. For some women, this post-treatment phase is one in which the cancer has gone underground and not entirely disappeared. It can lead to unexpected recurrence with the cancer spreading sometimes 10 to 20 years after diagnosis When cancer spreads it kills. Aspirin seems to interfere with that process. Those patients who made aspirin a regular habit, consuming low doses two to five times a week, were 71 percent less likely to have a deadly recurrence of their breast cancer compared to those who were taking little or no aspirin.
Other Anti-Inflammatory Drugs With Similar Results
A similar trend was found with regular use of other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, but the numbers of users over the study time were insufficient for statistical certainty. The findings are nonetheless provocative, reinforcing the notion that the beneficial effects of aspirin on cancer survival may rest with its anti-inflammatory effects. We do know that deadly cancers hijack the inflammatory system to spread and invade distant organs, but we understand woefully little about the process for any given cancer and how to treat it. Figuring out the underlying secrets of this aspirin effect will open up neglected fields of cancer study: why and how cancers ultimately claim lives.
But what does this mean for breast cancer survivors?
Aspirin has proved itself as a safe, effective, and inexpensive preventive that cuts the risk for colon and prostate cancer and for years has served as a way to prevent heart disease and stroke. Here the Nurses' Health Study shows, for the first time, that breast cancer survivors can substantially lower their risk of a recurrent, deadly tangle with this cancer in the future.