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Scientists setting out to answer whether aspirin may actually help fight cancer

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Posted October 23, 2015

Aspirin is painkiller in use for more than a century. It also helps with fever and is used by the patients with higher risk of strokes and heart attacks. It is used so widely and is so common it would be very hard to find a medicine cabinet without these small white pills.

Aspirin is widely used to treat headache, fever and variety of other conditions. However, despite its popularity, scientists still do not the full potential of it and are still trying to figure out whether it could be used to fight cancer. Image credit: Chaval Brasil via Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Aspirin is widely used to treat headache, fever and variety of other conditions. However, despite its popularity, scientists still do not the full potential of it and are still trying to figure out whether it could be used to fight cancer. Image credit: Chaval Brasil via Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

However, there have been speculations we still do not know every talent of aspirin. There were some studies suggesting aspirin may actually help fighting cancer. Now scientists at the University College London will try to answer for once and for all whether aspirin may help prevent some cancers from coming back.

The question is not new. There have been studies suggesting that aspirin really can help fight cancer or prevent it from coming back, but the evidence has not been conclusive. Even on this website there have been articles about speculations that aspirin may help fight breast cancer. But since there were no reliable and conclusive evidence, question is still there. Therefore scientists are beginning a new research to figure this out, because before prescribing such daily therapy of aspirin to the cancer patients doctors have to be entirely sure it is a safe and effective treatment.

The study is called Add-Aspirin and is being carried out by the MRC Clinical Trials Centre at UCL in collaboration with Cancer Research UK and the National Institute for Health Research.

Professor Ruth Langley, chief investigator in the study, said: “There’s been some interesting research suggesting that aspirin could delay or stop early stage cancers coming back, but there’s been no randomised trial to give clear proof. This trial aims to answer this question once and for all. If we find that aspirin does stop these cancers returning, it could change future treatment – providing a cheap and simple way to help stop cancer coming back and helping more people survive.”

For such purpose study has to be rather wide, to answer these questions once and for all and provide real evidence so that doctors could start using the treatments. Therefore Add-Aspirin will involve 11,000 patients across the UK and India. Researchers will chose those patients who are having, or have recently had, treatment for bowel, breast, oesophagus (food pipe), prostate or stomach cancer.

Methodology is rather interesting, although simple. Participants will be randomly grouped into three groups. Patients from the first group are going to be taking a 300mg aspirin tablet per day, second group will take a lower dose of 100mg per day, while others will be taking a placebo. In order to get accurate results, virtually no one will know which group is taking which dose of aspirin – neither the patients, nor the teams of healthcare professionals administering the aspirin and monitoring the patients will be aware of that.

Health of the participants will be constantly monitored, in order to see if aspirin has any effect and whether cancer is coming back. This type of trial, known as a double-blind randomised controlled trial, is usually considered to be the best evidence in medicine, because it avoids unconscious biases or preconceptions by the participants or the medical staff treating them.

The final step of the research is going to be a statistical analysis of the data, which should reveal whether or not the aspirin has any measurable effect on the chances of cancer returning and on how long individuals live following their cancer diagnosis. However, scientists warn people not to jump into taking aspirin now on their own discretion. Science still does not know whether it will be proven that aspirin has any significant effect in preventing cancer from returning and the drug itself is not suitable for everyone. Furthermore, it can have serious side effects if not taken carefully.

But those on the trial will most likely have hope that it will work. And hope is also an important variable in such studies, which is why placebo is also included. This study is a perfect example how little humanity actually knows about its own creations – after of century in use we still do not know all positive effects of aspirin. We will have to wait and see the final results of this research.

Source: UCL

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