Study Finds Aspirin Can Aid in Treating Certain Colorectal Cancers

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A new study published on Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) has bolstered previous research regarding aspirin's positive effect on colorectal cancer. Researchers looked at data regarding patients who had received a diagnosis of colorectal cancer, and their survival rates after being prescribed a daily dose of aspirin for a length of time after diagnosis.

The researchers in the NEJM study were specifically looking at data regarding aspirin's effect on those with tumors that test positive for a mutation of the gene known as PIKC3A. They found that when they studied the cases of some 964 patients that had been diagnosed with colorectal cancer, those with the mutation had a 97 percent survival rate after five years if they were treated with an aspirin regimen. Those with "wild-type" PIKC3A -- people who had colorectal cancer but not the genetic mutation -- did not appear to benefit from an aspirin regimen, according to the NEJM study.

The NEJM study delved more specifically into the ongoing research into aspirin's effect on cancer. The Lancet had published three studies on the same day last March that all concerned themselves with that same question on some level or another. One focused on whether or not aspirin can affect cancer's spread, or metastasis. Another focused on whether a daily aspirin regimen can reduce a person's long-term risk of getting cancer in the first place, while the third studied whether or not aspirin had any short-term effect on a person's risk of getting cancer, having it spread, or preventing death.

The studies published in the Lancet found that aspirin does appear to reduce a person's long-term risk of getting cancer, and can help slow or prevent metastasis. Short-term effects on a person's risk of metastasis or death were also found in the studies.

There are ongoing questions related to both the Lancet studies from earlier this year and the NEJM study published on Thursday, however. There are risks to beginning a low-dose aspirin regimen, including an increased risk of bleeding, which still require further study. Additionally, researchers examining the data from the aspirin trials that were the subject of the studies published in the Lancet in March could not determine whether the long-term effects of an aspirin regimen were the same for women, although the short-term effects appeared to be the same for both sexes.

The NEJM study, on the other hand, did not uncover a gender difference in the efficacy of an aspirin regimen on mutated-PIKC3A colorectal cancer. However, only about one in six patients with colorectal cancer have the mutated-PIKC3A variety of tumor, which means aspirin's efficacy in treating those without it is uncertain.

Ultimately, it does appear that research into aspirin's effect on cancer continues to look promising, particularly as scientists are able to pinpoint its uses more specifically. More research will need to be undertaken, however. As Dr. Boris Pasche wrote in an editorial accompanying the NEJM study that was quoted by CNN, "'these data are exciting and intriguing,'" but "'they need to be considered as preliminary, and will require validation in prospective studies.'"

Vanessa Evans is a musician and freelance writer based in Michigan, who frequently covers health and nutrition topics.

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