Aspirin may help save breast cancer patients
Aspirin may offer a powerful way to help breast cancer patients survive the disease, according to a large new study.
An analysis of data collected from 4,164 breast cancer patients participating in the well-known, highly respected Nurses' Health Study found that those who took aspirin regularly were about half as likely as those who did not to die from the malignancy. They were also about half as likely to have their cancer spread elsewhere in their bodies, according to a paper published online Tuesday in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
Previous studies examining whether aspirin use may reduce the risk of getting diagnosed with breast cancer in the first place have produced mixed results. One earlier study found that people with colon cancer who took aspirin lived longer than those who did not. The new study is the largest to examine whether aspirin could help women who had already been diagnosed with breast cancer.
It remains unclear how aspirin may have this benefit. But researchers suspect it may be due to the drug's ability to reduce inflammation in the body.
MIchelle Holmes of the Harvard School of Public Health, who led the study, cautioned that more research is needed to confirm the findings before recommending that breast cancer patients take aspirin to increase their chances of surviving.
While the study was big and well conducted, it is an "observational" study, which means it can only suggest relationships, not prove them. The only way to do that would be to give some women aspirin and others a placebo and follow them over time to see if it works.
Several other experts concurred, noting that although aspirin is available over the counter and used casually, it can have serious side effects, most notably increasing the risk for dangerous bleeding.
But the findings suggest that women who are already taking aspirin regularly, perhaps to reduce their risk for heart attacks, may be getting yet another benefit.
In the study, a total of 400 women had their cancer spread elsewhere in their bodies and 341 of these women died of breast cancer compared to those who did not take aspirin. Women who took aspirin two to five days a week had a 60 percent reduced risk of metastasis and a 71 percent lower risk of breast cancer death. Those who took aspirin six or seven days a week had a 43 percent reduce risk of metastasis and a 64 percent lower risk of breast cancer death.
The researchers did not have data on the amount of aspirin the women took. But those who took it regularly probably took it to protect themselves against heart disease and the typical dose for that is 81 milligrams a day.
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