An aspirin-a-day could stave off bowel cancer, new research suggests.
Experiments on mice showed the common painkiller stops tumors growing – or recurring.
Scientists at City of Hope Hospital in Duarte, California, are hopeful of the same results in humans and are working to identify the correct dose.
They believe the ‘wonder drug’ holds the key to both curing the disease and preventing its development – but cardiologists have recently walked back recommendations to take daily aspirin amid concerns it could cause bleeding.
New research in mice suggests that a daily dose of aspirin could cut risks of colorectal cancer by stopping tumors from growing or coming back (file)
‘Some might say aspirin is a ‘miracle drug’ because of its potential to prevent diseases that result from chronic inflammation such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and arthritis,’ said senior author Professor Ajay Goel, an oncologist at City of Hope Hospital.
‘The reason aspirin isn’t currently being used to prevent these diseases is because taking too much of any anti-inflammatory eats at the stomach’s mucus lining and causes gastrointestinal and other problems.
‘We are getting closer to discovering the right amount of daily aspirin needed to treat and prevent colorectal cancer without causing scary side effects.’
More than six million Americans and millions more Britons take a daily aspirin to protect themselves against heart attack and stroke triggering blood clots.
For many years, US doctors advised that anyone at risk of heart attack or stroke could benefit from taking a daily dose of aspirin to reduce risks of heart attack or stroke, starting as early as middle age.
But in 2019, the American Heart Association walked back that guideline, advising instead that the drug should only be taken daily if a doctor prescribed patients to do so.
Dr Goel’s team used mouse models and mathematical modeling to parallel the amount of daily aspirin people in the US and Europe are taking in clinical trials.
They found as the doses increased more cells died while fewer divided – meaning tumorous ones were more likely to be destroyed than spread.
THE WESTERN DIET EXPLAINED
The Western diet is loosely defined as one full of fatty and sugary foods, such as burgers, fries and soda.
People often eat foods that are high in
- Saturated fats
- Red meats
- ‘Empty’ carbohydrates
- Junk Food
And low in
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
- Whole Grains
Health effects have been linked to things such as hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, colorectal cancer and dementia.
‘We are now working with some of the people conducting those human clinical trials to analyse data and use mathematical modeling,’ said Dr Goel.
‘This process adds a layer of confidence to the findings and guides future human trial designs.’
He pointed out colorectal tumors – where abnormal growth of cells begins in the bowel – are among the top five cancers diagnosed every year.
His researchers tested three varying daily doses of aspirin in four colorectal cancer cell lines – including tumors with mutations in a gene called PIK3CA.
These have been linked to increased risk of bowel, womb and aggressive breast cancers.
When bowel tumors in hundreds of mice were exposed to different amounts of aspirin it caused the ‘suicide’ of malignant cells – or ‘cellular apoptosis.’
What’s more, the higher the dose the more cells died – suggesting a ‘domino effect’ in all colorectal cell lines regardless of genetic background.
The 432 lab rodents were divided into low (15mg/kg), medium (50mg/kg) and high dose (100mg/kg) groups – along with a fourth that acted as a control.
This would be equivalent to 100mg, 300mg and 600mg pills for humans. As a preventative measure for heart disease, the standard dose is 75mg of aspirin a day.
As a painkiller, the recommended dose is 275 to 300mg every six to eight hours, not exceeding three doses a day.
The tumors from three mice in each treatment group were analysed on days three, five, seven, nine and 11.
The percentage of cells programmed to die increased in all cell lines. Exactly how much, however, depended on the amount of aspirin that was consumed.
Importantly, the low-dose was especially effective in suppressing tumors in mice that had more PIK3CA genes.
This was significant because the mutated version of these genes has been associated with increased risk of certain cancers, said Prof Goel.
The study published in Carcinogenesis could open a new therapeutic opportunity for several forms of the disease.
To further validate the findings the scientists applied mathematical modeling to the experimental data.
They measured the rates of cell division and cell death to show it was less likely malignant cells could survive and develop into actual tumors.
Dr Russell Rockne, a mathematical oncologist at City of Hope who was not involved in the study, said: ‘Speaking metaphorically, they were building a hurricane model to predict the path a cyclone would take.
‘Mathematics and computational biology increasingly play a larger role in basic and translational research in cancer.
‘Mathematical oncologists like myself take data, separate it into discreet parts and use math to explain why something like aspirin could have an inhibitory effect against colorectal cancer.’
Aspirin makes the blood less sticky so it reduces the odds of a blood clot forming inside the body, which could cause a heart attack or stroke.
While taking low-dose aspirin has been shown to help prevent heart attacks, stroke and cancer, it is known to increase the risk of serious harms, particularly risk of bleeding in the stomach and intestines, and strokes caused by bleeding in the brain.
Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in the US, killing some 647,000 Americans a year.
But colorectal cancer cases have been on a worrying upward trajectory, now killing more than 50,000 a year with more than 135,000 new diagnoses made each year – increasingly in young people.
Experts suspect that the rise in colorectal cancer is driven in part by a parallel rise in obesity and the poor diets maintained by Westerners.