Aspirin may lower the risk of some cancers. Now, researchers led by scientists from the University of California, San Francisco may have an explanation. Aspirin appears to slow the accumulation of DNA mutations (changes) in abnormal cells in at least one pre-cancerous condition. In the online journal PLOS Genetics, Carlo Maley, PhD and colleagues analyzed biopsy samples from 13 patients with a pre-cancerous condition known as Barrett’s esophagus that can occur in the lower esophagus (especially with heartburn/reflux) and occasionally lead to esophagus cancer. The study is an observational crossover one, meaning that patients start by taking daily aspirin for several years, then stopped. Others started taking the aspirin for the first time during the observation. The researchers aimed to track the rate of mutations in tissues sampled at different times.
Biopsies takin while the patients were on aspirin had on average accumulated new mutations about 10 times more slowly than in biopsies obtained during years when the patients were not taking aspirin.
My take: We know that cancers can accumulate mutations over time more rapidly than normal cells. Even within a single tumor, we may see different rates. This diversity can set a tumor up for resistance to treatment. I also wonder whether the aspirin effects are mediated through the lowering of inflammation. Less inflammation may reduce the production of DNA-damaging oxidants in pre-cancerous cells. Someday, we may better halt or slow growth and mutation rather than simply aiming to kill a cancer cell. For now, check with your doctor to see if there are other reasons you should consider something like a baby aspirin. Who knows? You may lower your risk of cancer a bit (but do ask about potential side effects)! I’m Dr. Michael Hunter.