Aspirin might reduce risk of breast cancer recurrence for obese women

August 20, 2014 | by

An aspirin a day might help keep breast cancer away for some breast cancer survivors, a new study suggests.

Aspirin closeup

A new study indicates that aspirin and similar painkillers could reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence in obese and overweight women. More research is warranted, experts say.

Obese women who have had breast cancer could cut their risk of a recurrence in half if they regularly take aspirin or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, called NSAIDs, report researchers from the University of Texas in Austin. The results of the NSAIDS study were published recently in the journal Cancer Research.

A City of Hope expert says the researchers' conclusion makes sense. Leslie Bernstein, Ph.D., R.N., director of the Division of Etiology at City of Hope, said the study echoes some of the findings of her own research on obesity.

“We think of obesity as an inflammatory condition, and women who are obese have a higher risk of recurrence,” Bernstein said in an interview with HealthDay. Because aspirin and other NSAIDs reduce inflammation, it stands to reason that the drugs could reduce the risk of a recurrence. (Bernstein pointed out that obesity in white women is associated with a higher risk of recurrence, while the risk of recurrence remains the same in black women, regardless of obesity.)

The research is not conclusive enough for doctors to begin recommending daily aspirin to breast cancer survivors. Further, the drugs carry an increased risk of side effects, such as gastrointestinal bleeding.

For their study, researchers analyzed data on 440 female breast cancer survivors diagnosed between 1987 and 2011. Most of the participants were past menopause and overweight or obese and had estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer. During the seven-year follow-up period, researchers found that 12 percent of those not taking NSAIDs had a recurrence of breast cancer, while only 6 percent of those who regularly took the painkillers had a recurrence.

Of the 281 women in the study who took painkillers, most took aspirin. The average BMI of the women was 31 – which falls into the obese category. The women were between 55 and 60 at the time of diagnosis.

Also of note, cancer recurrence took longer in patients who took NSAIDs – six and a half years versus a little more than four years for those who did not take the drugs.

Researchers believe the anti-inflammatory properties of the painkillers may play a role in warding off cancer.

Bernstein said the study does have some limitations. It didn't use actual interviews with the women, relying instead on chart reviews, and it didn't focus exclusively on one NSAID, such as aspirin. But the research is notable, she said, adding that ultimately, women might be more likely to adhere to a recommendation to take daily aspirin than other risk-reducing activities.

“You can’t get all women to exercise,” Bernstein said, “but you can get them to take an aspirin every day.”

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