New research indicates that aspirin and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen (Aleve) could not only reduce the risk of ovarian cancer, but also improve survival with daily use.
Aspirin has been shown to lower the risk of heart attack or stroke caused by a blood clot in the brain and is also known for its anti-inflammatory properties. But new research indicates that aspirin and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen (Aleve) could not only reduce the risk of ovarian cancer, but also improve survival with daily use.
Ovarian cancer is known as the fifth-most common cancer in women — and the most fatal, as less than half of patients will survive five years post-diagnosis. With mounting evidence that inflammation is a factor in the development of ovarian cancer, researchers from the Moffitt Cancer Center and the University of Hawaii Cancer Center set out to examine the connection with two studies.
The first study, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, explored the impact that these drugs have on reducing the risk of ovarian cancer. “Aspirin has been associated with improved survival for patients with other cancers, like breast and colon cancers,” explained Shelley S. Tworoger, Ph.D., senior study author and associate center director for Population Science at Moffitt Cancer Center, in an interview with CURE. “Because ovarian cancer is related to inflammation, aspirin was a good factor to study.”
Researchers pooled data from 13 studies that contained information from more than 750,000 women around the world — 3,500 of whom were diagnosed with ovarian cancer – over several decades. The women were asked about their aspirin and non-aspirin NSAID use at one point in time and were then tracked. Ultimately, it was found that daily aspirin use reduced the risk of developing ovarian cancer by 10 percent.
As Tworoger noted in a statement, “The results of the study support that aspirin can reduce ovarian cancer risk, but further studies will need to be performed before a recommendation of daily aspirin can be made. For example, we need to examine the best dose, baby aspirin versus regular aspirin, for women.”
The second study, published in Lancet Oncology, looked at how regular use of anti-inflammatory medication use improved survival rates in patients with ovarian cancer. Researchers analyzed nearly 1,000 ovarian cancer cases from the Nurses’ Health Studies based at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
They then compared the rates of ovarian cancer-related death in the groups of women who did and did not take these drugs. According to Tworoger, “We found that using aspirin or non-aspirin NSAIDs after diagnosis was related to improved survival.” In fact, those individuals saw as much as a 30 percent improvement in survival.
As for why this happens, Tworoger explained that the anti-inflammatory properties of aspirin and NSAIDs could be the key. “Aspirin and non-aspirin NSAIDs block a specific type of inflammation pathway in our body,” she explained. “These molecules promote tumor growth and help get nutrients to cancer cells.”
A known blood-thinner, aspirin also reduces the number of platelets found in the blood, which could be beneficial in slowing cancer growth, according to Tworoger. “Platelets increase inflammation and help tumor cells spread to other parts of the body and having high platelets has been associated with worse outcomes in ovarian cancer patients.”
While aspirin has been linked to improved survival in other cancer types, Tworoger notes that further study is needed to determine if its use in combination with standard therapies could be used to improve survival rates. “Importantly, we need to pool together data from multiple prospective studies, so we can look to see if these analgesics are particularly helpful for certain groups of patients."
“Given that these medications are usually well-tolerated,” she added. “it is important to explore these drugs with survival of multiple cancer types.”