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Aspirin could be a weapon against ovarian cancer, Moffitt researcher says

According to three studies by a researcher from Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, aspirin can lower a person’s risk of getting ovarian cancer and improve survival rates for those who already have the disease. [Courtesy of Duke Medicine]
According to three studies by a researcher from Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, aspirin can lower a person’s risk of getting ovarian cancer and improve survival rates for those who already have the disease. [Courtesy of Duke Medicine]
Published Dec. 7, 2018

It's long been recommended that adults should take low-dose aspirin to help ward off cardiovascular disease and colon cancer. Now four new studies out of Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa suggest that regular use of the common pain reliever could also be a weapon against ovarian cancer.

The studies, published this year in four medical journals, analyzed data collected from several other large studies. The results showed that daily use of aspirin may reduce ovarian cancer risk by 10 percent and provide as much as an 30 percent improvement of survival.

But the key is finding the right dose.

In one of the studies, women who reported taking a low-dose aspirin every day had a 23 percent lower risk of getting ovarian cancer compared to non-aspirin users. However, women who were "heavy users" of non-aspirin anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen (Aleve) over a long period of time actually had a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer.

"Aspirin and inflammation is a really big area of research for other cancers, like breast and colon. But not much has been done in ovarian," said senior study author Shelley Tworoger, associate center director of population science at Moffitt. "We believe we are the first to study this link between aspirin and ovarian cancer."

Ovarian cancer is known as "the silent killer" because it is rarely diagnosed until it's already in advanced stages, when the prognosis is not great.

Inflammation is the immune system's response to infection and injury, and is necessary for the body to heal itself. During this process, white blood cells create substances that cause cells to divide in order to grow and rebuild tissue. Chronic inflammation can trigger the body to create that same effect even if there's no injury. And over time, it can cause DNA damage and lead to cancer.

"We're not quite at the stage where we could make the recommendation that daily aspirin use lowers ovarian cancer risk. We need to do more research. But it is definitely something women should discuss with their physician," Tworoger said. "The results of the studies support that aspirin can reduce ovarian cancer risk, but further studies will need to be done before a recommendation of daily aspirin can be made. We need to examine the best dose, baby aspirin versus regular aspirin, for women."

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The Moffitt researchers pooled data from 13 major studies from around the globe that asked women about the medication they took at one point in time, and followed them to identify those who developed cancer. In all, their study included more than 750,000 women. Of that group, over 3,500 were diagnosed with ovarian center.

"Right now there are really no lifestyle recommendations for ovarian cancer patients outside of the realm of clinical care, like going through chemotherapy and surgery," Tworoger said.

In another study, Tworoger and a team of researchers examined data from more than 200,000 women, including 1,054 who developed ovarian cancer, that looked at different types of anti-inflammatory medication. They found users of low-dose aspirin, like baby aspirin, had the greatest chance of lowering their risk of cancer. Meanwhile, standard-dose aspirin users who had ovarian cancer did not improve.

And those women who used ibuprofen or Aleve instead, had an increased risk of developing the disease.

Aspirin and other anti-inflammatory drugs may help reduce the chances of developing deadly disease, but they do come with some of their own health risks. That includes stomach bleeding and other gastric issues.

A study published in October in the New England Journal of Medicine followed 19,000 people age 70 and over for nearly five years and found that low-dose aspirin did not significantly reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease in that group. It also found a "significantly higher risk of major hemorrhage" in those patients.

While aspirin is a "well-established therapy" for trying to keep cardiovascular problems from getting worse, its role in preventing the onset of the disease "is unclear, especially in older persons," the study said.

The Moffitt findings were published this year in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, JAMA Oncology, the Journal of the National Cancer Institute and Lancet Oncology.

The center is currently looking for grants to take the research to the next level, and possibly, a clinical trial.

"The next step is really looking to see if there are specific populations of women who would most benefit from this,"Tworoger said.

Contact Justine Griffin at jgriffin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8467. Follow @SunBizGriffin.

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