One of the newest weapons against breast cancer may already be sitting in your medicine cabinet. Researchers from the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Kansas City and the University of Kansas Medical Center presented new findings at an April medical conference that suggest some breast cancer cell growth might be significantly reduced—and possibly prevented in the first place—by consistent low doses of aspirin.
The researchers used aspirin, a common anti-inflammatory drug, in lab experiments with mice and cancer cells in test tubes. They found that aspirin, when administered in a low dose for a long period of time, slowed the growth of cancer cells, shrank tumors, and stopped tumor cells from spreading to other sites. The effect even occurred in an aggressive type of breast cancer known as triple-negative breast cancer, which doesn’t respond to many kinds of effective treatments.
The findings are very preliminary, but offer hope that aspirin’s benefits are still being uncovered and may play a role in future cancer treatments. We already know aspirin can do more than alleviate a headache, from reducing the risk of prostate cancer to improving survival rates after diagnoses of colon cancer.
The new research suggests that, in the case of breast cancer at least, aspirin is effective because it seems to target stem cells. Stem cells, although more commonly discussed in terms of embryos, are also found in adults. Adult stem cells are, in the words of the National Institute of Health, capable of “dividing essentially without limit to replenish other cells as long as the person or animal is still alive”. They have huge potential for growth and transformation, and are thought to be at the heart of why cancerous cells can spread so rapidly.
Aspirin may not just be useful in treatments, but the nature of the study raises the possibility that taking an aspirin daily may help prevent breast cancer in the first place. Obviously, this is very exciting news, but the research is still in its earliest stages, and you should certainly talk with your doctor before you start taking any medicine—even just plain old aspirin.
In the meantime, there are plenty of surefire ways to reduce your risk for breast cancer, from loading up on vegetables to finally quitting smoking. You certainly don’t need your doctor’s permission to make these healthy choices, starting today!