Could a common painkiller really be able to slow the spread of one of the most virulent forms of breast cancer? A new study says yes, possibly.
Researchers at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Kansas City, Mo., and the University of Kansas Medical Center have reportedly found that a frequent low dose of aspirin may slow and even perturb the development of breast cancers and, of particular interest, that it may be effective in stymieing triple-negative breast cancer, one of the most dangerous and hard to treat forms of the disease.
The study, which involved lab tests on mice, showed aspirin could prevent cancer cells from fully forming or being able to even develop the stem cells cancer uses in order to fuel growth and proliferate.
Lab tests showed that the common painkiller was also able to significantly slow the growth of existing tumors, and that aspirin appeared to boost the effect of tamoxifen, a drug used to treat the more common forms of hormone-receptor positive breast cancers. Aspirin’s multi-purpose nature, that it can be used to treat multiple metabolic pathways, means that it may be particularly useful in cancer treatment — this an assertion backed up by many diverse studies that have linked daily doses of aspirin to cancer-preventing lifestyle choices.
However, it is aspirin’s potential impact on triple-negative breast cancer that has intrigued researchers, because the prognosis for triple-negative breast cancer is currently quite poor.
What is Triple-Negative Breast Cancer?
When breast cancer cells test negative on three key markers, estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors and HER2 receptors, the cancer is called triple-negative.
This form of cancer, usually diagnosed in women before they reach the 40-50 age bracket, represents about 10-20% of all diagnosed breast cancers. It is more common among African-American or Hispanic women, and a particular gene mutation (BRCA1) also predisposes towards developing the cancer.
Triple-negative breast cancer certainly is beatable, but it presents a particular challenge because it does not respond to the hormone therapies used to treat other less aggressive forms of breast cancer and therefore can often require invasive surgeries such as full mastectomies over lumpectomies.
In addition, triple-negative cancer has shown itself more likely to spread and is more likely to re-occur after treatment during a 3-5 year window (however, it’s recurrence rate drops off below that of hormone responsive breast cancer after that period). Triple negative breast cancer also has a lower five-year survival rate than other forms of breast cancer.
For these reasons, finding a way to effectively tackle triple-negative breast cancer and improve the prognosis for sufferers has been a key area of investigation for the researchers.
The fact that the aspirin therapy showed promise in the lab is immensely encouraging in terms of potential future treatments, but it also presents a little bit of a conundrum for researchers.
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