APR 25, 2024 8:00 AM PDT

Aspirin Reduces Cancer Progression

Aspirin is an over-the-counter medication used to reduce swelling and relieve pain. It is a salicylate medication, which means it reduces the formation of prostaglandins, which are critical in the process of inflammation, and prevents the formation of platelets. In general, it is given to reduce fever and help mediate headaches, menstrual periods, muscle soreness, and other symptoms. Not only does aspirin relieve pain, but it is also a blood thinner. As a result, it is used for stroke prevention and those experiencing a heart attack. As a prescribed medication, it is used to relieve symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, and other inflammatory conditions. In addition to these uses, physicians have also recommended aspirin to help prevent or treat cancer.

Researchers from Italy concluded in a recent paper in Cancer that long-term use of aspirin helps prevent colorectal cancer. Dr. Matteo Fassan and Marco Scarpa, both at the Azienda Ospedale Università di Padova in Padova, Italy, led the investigation that analyzed large datasets to determine the affect of aspirin on colorectal cancer patients.

Colorectal cancer is an increasing concern, especially since its prevalence has risen in younger adults. One possible reason for this increased occurrence is that the foods many people currently eat, including takeout and processed foods, are directly linked with obesity and an increased risk of colorectal cancer. The intake of red meat and alcohol may also contribute to health risk. This is why many doctors are encouraging adults younger than 45 to see a doctor if they experience the following symptoms: (1) constipation, (2) rectal bleeding, or (3) sudden change in bowl movements. It is critical to take notice of anything unusual with bowel movements. Other symptoms may include unhealthy weight loss, abdominal pains, and diarrhea. In regard to disease progression and survival, localized colorectal cancer has a 5-year survival rate of 91%, but as the cancer spreads the survival rate starts to decrease. Once the cancer metastasizes the 5-year survival rate is only 13%. Treatments for colorectal cancer include surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and targeted therapy dependent on the stage of cancer and patient factors, such as age.

Fassan, Scarpa, and others analyzed over 200 tissue samples from colorectal cancer patients. Of those samples, 12% used aspirin regularly and over a long-term period. Researchers compared the aspirin treated tissue with the others and found that less cancer spread to the lymph nodes and there was an increase in immune cell infiltration within the tumor itself. They also found in the aspirin treated tissue an increase of a specific cell marker on immune cells, which is indicative of an enhanced immune response. It also showed increased immune cells in healthy surrounding tissue, suggesting increase immunosurveillance. These findings demonstrate not only does aspirin limit the spread of cancer, but it also may help prevent the development of a tumor.

Overall, Fassan, Scarpa, and others clearly show another use of aspirin besides reducing inflammation. This work provides scientists and physicians key insights into the mechanism of aspirin and how it could be paired with stand-of-care therapies. Importantly, it informs physicians and patients that long-term aspirin use could help prevent colorectal cancer by enhancing our immune system.  

Paper, Cancer, Matteo Fassan, Marco Scarpa, Azienda Ospedale Università di Padova

About the Author
Master's (MA/MS/Other)
Greetings! I am a predoctoral trainee in the Department of Immunology at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. I am passionate about tumor immunology, and hope to one day become an independent principal investigator.
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