Simple Aspirin During Chemo May Boost Cancer Fight
New research suggests that adding simple, over-the-counter aspirin to immunotherapy for combatting cancer may significantly improve outcomes. Of course, aspirin is one of the most common medications in the world. Originally derived from the bark of certain willow trees, aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) was identified in the 18th century, and synthesized by a chemist at Bayer in the late 19th century. But it’s use is far older. Willow bark “tea” for fever and pain relief was known to the “father of medicine,” Hippocrates, who prescribed it for that most common of problems; headache.
For most of us, that’s why we reach for inexpensive aspirin. Aspirin is classified as a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) drug. It also reduces fever, and prevents blood platelets from sticking together. Like other NSAIDs, aspirin is a COX inhibitor. COX-1 and COX-2 are enzymes that play an important role in the propagation of a cascade of immune system events within the body. This cascade drives inflammation.
Accumulating evidence has suggested for years that people who take aspirin regularly may enjoy a lower risk of certain types of cancers, and a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. These conditions are believed to reflect underlying inflammatory processes, so it’s thought that aspirin helps prevent these diseases by interfering with inflammation. In the general population, for example, regular use of mild doses of aspirin has been linked to a modest (but not insignificant) 12% reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease. Other research suggests regular aspirin use may reduce the incidence of colorectal cancer by up to 37%. And aspirin may reduce the incidence of breast cancer by about 18%.
Now, animal research from the United Kingdom suggests that adding aspirin to immunotherapy for breast cancer treatment may help dramatically improve the success of the aggressive anti-cancer therapy. One of the reasons breast cancer cells are able to thrive has to do with the ramped up production by these cells of immune system proteins called prostaglandins. These natural chemicals dampen the immune response, making it easier for cancer cells to escape detection—and destruction—by the immune system. Aspirin works to reduce the production of these prostaglandins, and makes cancer cells more vulnerable to destruction as a result.
Study author, Professor Caetano Reis e Sousa said: "Giving patients COX inhibitors like aspirin at the same time as immunotherapy could potentially make a huge difference to the benefit they get from treatment. It's still early work but this could help make cancer immunotherapy even more effective, delivering life-changing results for patients."
Cuzick J, Thorat MA, et al. Estimates of benefits and harms of prophylactic use of aspirin in the general population. Ann Oncol. 2015 Jan;26(1):47-57. doi: 10.1093/annonc/mdu225. Epub 2014 Aug 5. Accessed Sept. 4, 2015 at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4269341/
Zelenay, S. et al. Cyclooxygenase-dependent tumor growth through evasion of immunity. Cell, September 2015 DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2015.08.015