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Resarchers found that aspirin prevents blood cells called platelets from producing an enzyme that allows them to clump together. Tumor cells can attach to these clumps and spread (metastasize) throughout the body.
"Aspirin inhibits platelet activation, which also could inhibit metastases," said lead author Jane Figueiredo, director of Community and Population Health Research at the Samuel Oschin Cancer Institute at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
For the study, Figueiredo's team analyzed data from more than 2,500 colon and rectal cancer patients in the United States.
Timing of the aspirin use appears to be critical, according to the study. Patients who used it for at least 15 months before being diagnosed with localized colon or rectal cancer were less likely to see their tumor spread.
"More evidence is needed, but this association between baby aspirin and lower death rates is highly significant," Figueiredo said in a Cedars-Sinai news release.
At the same time, while patients who began taking aspirin after their cancer diagnosis had better outcomes than those who didn't take aspirin, the difference was not significant, the study found.
"These findings may provide an inexpensive lifestyle option to people seeking to prevent colorectal cancer, or to improve their prognoses if they are diagnosed," Figueiredo said.
"There really needs to be a conversation between clinicians and patients about both the risks and benefits," Figueiredo said. "These studies and our results really add to that conversation."
The findings were recently published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
The American Cancer Society has more on colon and rectal cancers.
SOURCE: Cedars-Sinai, news release, March 29, 2021
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