Low-Dose Aspirin & Cancer

Ana Sandolu has written another article explaining the use of low-dose aspirin and the prevention of cancer.  As well known, cancer is a leading cause of morbidity and death worldwide and is predicted to increase in the following years.  Making healthy lifestyle choices and getting tested if at risk are some prevention strategies. I have always been aware of taking a “baby” aspirin for heart maintenance but never as a possible prevention of cancer.  The new research is suggesting that a small dose of aspirin may help prevent the formation of cancer cells and explains how.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reveals that cancer is one of the leading causes of death accounting for 8.2 million deaths in 2012 alone.  They recommend making healthy lifestyle and dietary choices as well as avoiding tobacco, alcohol and staying physically active with a diet of plenty of fruits and vegetables.

The idea that low-dose aspirin intake may also help to prevent cancer and inhibit the proliferation of cancer cell reinforces the idea through new research.  The United States Preventive Services Task Force recommended in September of 2015, the daily use of a small dose of aspirin to help with cardiovascular disease as well as colorectal cancer.

This low dose of aspirin may very well inhibit cancer cell proliferation and metastasis.  The scientists from Oregon Health and Science University in collaboration with Oregon State University published their research results in the journal AJF-Cell Physiology.  They reported that the benefit of aspirin might be due to its effect on blood cells called platelets, rather than acting directly on tumor cells.  Our blood platelets also increase the levels of a certain protein that may support cancer cells and help them to spread. This oncoprotein is called c-MYC.  Its function is to regulate the expression over 15% of all the genes of the human body. The c-MYC regulator controls the life-and-death cycle of cells, the synthesis of proteins and the cells’ metabolism. Research has shown that in human cancers, this oncogene is overexpressed.

This work suggests that the anti-cancer action of aspirin might be in part during their transit in the blood; circulating tumor cells interact with platelets, which spur tumor cell survival by activating oncoproteins such as c-MYC.  This inhibition of platelets with aspirin therapy reduces the signaling between platelets and tumor cells, thus reducing tumor cell growth.

Blood platelets can play a protective role for the early cancer cells and aid metastasis.  Aspirin appears to interfere with that process and c-MYC may explain part of that mechanism.

It is also noted by the researchers that almost 1/3 of colon cancer patients and 42% of patients with pancreatic cancer had overexpression of the c-MYC oncoprotein.  The impact that aspirin has on blood platelets is just as effective in high doses as it is at low ones. The clinicians can weigh the risks and benefits of aspirin intake as well as reduce the risk of bleeding, which is a common side effect of ingesting too much aspirin.  It is emphasized the crucial role of physicians and healthcare professionals when considering even a low-dose aspirin intake.

The interaction between platelets and cancer cells is believed to occur early and the use of anti-platelet doses of aspirin might serve as a safe and efficacious preventive measure for patients at risk for cancer.

Dr Fredda Branyon