Regular use of aspirin reduces the long-term risk of cancer in people who suffer from obesity according to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
Scientists from the Universities of Newcastle and Leeds found that obesity doubles the risk of developing colon cancer in people with Lynch syndrome, a hereditary genetic disease. Almost half of the patients affected with this syndrome are diagnosed with cancer, mainly colon and uterine cancer.
Professor Sir John Burn, professor of Clinical Genetics at Newcastle University who led the international research collaboration, said: “This is important for people with Lynch Syndrome but affects the rest of us too. Lots of people struggle with their weight and this suggests the extra cancer risk can be cancelled by taking an aspirin.
“This research adds to the growing body of evidence which links an increased inflammatory process to an increased risk of cancer. Obesity increases the inflammatory response. One explanation for our findings is that the aspirin may be suppressing that inflammation which opens up new avenues of research into the cause of cancer.”
This 10-year study which involved 937 subjects with obesity and was conducted in 43 centers in 16 countries, revealed that the cancer risk is reduced to practically zero when taking regular doses of aspirin. One study group took 600mg of aspirin daily over two years and another group – placebo.
The researchers believe the study shows that aspirin is affecting an underlying mechanism which pre-disposes someone to cancer and further study is needed in this area. Since the benefits are occurring before the very early stages of developing a tumor – known as the adenoma carcinoma sequence – the effect must be changing the cells which are predisposed to become cancerous in later years.
One possibility is that a little recognized effect of aspirin is to enhance programmed cell death. This is most obvious in plants where salicylates trigger this mechanism to help diseased plants contain the spread of infection.
“We may be seeing a mechanism in humans whereby aspirin is encouraging genetically damaged stem cells to undergo programmed cell death, this would have an impact on cancer,” says Sir John.
Study authors caution that their findings are only preliminary, and reminded that the misuse of aspirin can cause serious health problems as this medicine can cause ulcers and bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract.