Aspirin slows DNA mutations, lowering cancer risk

Aspirin, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, is known to lower the risk of certain cancers. A new study puts forth a possible explanation as to how aspirin is able to lower the risk of some cancers.

Findings of a new study have shown that the medicine slows the accumulation of DNA mutations in abnormal cells, thereby lowering the risk of cancer.

“Aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, which are commonly available and cost-effective medications, may exert cancer-preventing effects by lowering mutation rates,” said Carlo Maley, a member of the University of California, San Francisco Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The study
For the purpose of the study, researchers analyzed biopsy samples of 13 patients diagnosed with a pre-cancerous condition known as Barrett’s esophagus.

To track the rate of mutations in tissues sample at different times the participants were followed for six to 19 years.

During the crossover study some patients took daily aspirin for several years before discontinuing it, while others started taking aspirin for the first time during the trial.

Researchers found that biopsies of patients taking aspirin had on average 10 times slower accumulation of new mutations than biopsies obtained during years when patients had discontinued aspirin.

“This is the first study to measure genome-wide mutation rates of a pre-malignant tissue within patients for more than a decade, and the first to evaluate how aspirin affects those rates,” Maley emphasized.

Researchers found that the pace of accumulation of mutations measured in the biopsy tissue at different time periods was slow, even when patients were not taking aspirin. Importantly, the vast majority of mutations arose before the abnormal tissue was first detected in the clinical investigations.

Medically, tumors accumulate mutations over time much more rapidly as compared in normal tissues, and different mutations arise in different groups of cells within the same tumor. This acquisition of key mutations eventually allows tumor cells to grow out of control.

The findings of the study are reported in the current issue of the journal PLOS Genetics.

Findings of another study reported in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in December last showed that people who took aspirin were 41 percent less likely to develop hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) and about half were less likely to die from chronic liver disease (CLD).

Regardless of the frequency or exclusivity of use, researchers highlighted that aspirin had a consistent protective effect related to both HCC incidence and CLD mortality.