Aspirin and breast cancer risk: How a wonder drug may become more wonderful

Over the years, the list of aspirin’s potential benefits has grown: a number of studies suggest that taking aspirin regularly can lower the risk of certain types of cancer. Now recent studies suggest that aspirin may also reduce the risk of breast cancer. The post Aspirin and breast cancer risk: How a wonder drug may become more wonderful appeared first on Harvard Health Blog.

Aspirin and breast cancer risk: How a wonder drug may become more wonderful

Aspirin has been called a wonder drug. And it’s easy to see why.

It’s inexpensive, its side effects are well-known and generally minor. And since it was developed in the 1890s, it’s been shown to provide a number of potential benefits, such as relieving pain, bringing down a fever, and preventing heart attacks and strokes. Over the last 20 years or so, the list of aspirin’s potential benefits has been growing. And it might be about to get even longer: did you know that aspirin may lower your risk of several types of cancer?

Studies of aspirin and cancer

A number of studies suggest that aspirin can lower the risk of certain types of cancer, including those involving the

  • colon
  • ovaries
  • liver
  • prostate.

The evidence that aspirin can reduce the risk of colon cancer is so strong that guidelines recommend daily aspirin use for certain groups of people to prevent colon cancer, including adults ages 50 to 59 with cardiovascular risk factors, and those with an inherited tendency to develop colon polyps and cancer.

And what about breast cancer? A number of studies in recent years suggest that breast cancer should be added to this list.

Studies of aspirin and breast cancer

One of the more convincing studies linking aspirin use to a lower risk of breast cancer followed more than 57,000 women who were surveyed about their health. Eight years later, about 3% of them had been newly diagnosed with breast cancer. Those who reported taking low-dose aspirin (81 mg) at least three days a week had significantly fewer breast cancers.

  • Regular low-dose aspirin use was associated with a 16% lower risk of breast cancer.
  • The reduction in risk was even greater — about 20% — for a common type of breast cancer fueled by hormones, called HR positive/HER2 negative.
  • No significant reduction in risk was found among those taking regular-dose aspirin (325 mg), or other anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen.

Another analysis reviewed the findings of 13 previous studies that included more than 850,000 women and found

  • a 14% lower risk after five years of taking aspirin
  • a 27% lower risk after 10 years of aspirin use
  • a 46% reduction in risk after 20 years of aspirin use.

How does aspirin affect breast cancer risk?

These studies did not examine why or how aspirin might reduce breast cancer risk. So we really don’t how it might work.

In animal studies of breast cancer, aspirin has demonstrated anti-tumor properties, including inhibiting tumor cell division and impairing growth of precancerous cells. In humans, researchers have observed an anti-estrogen effect of aspirin. That could be important, because estrogen encourages the growth of some breast cancers. It’s also possible that aspirin inhibits new blood vessel formation that breast cancers need to grow. And the particular genetics of the tumor cells may be important, as aspirin’s ability to suppress cancer cell growth appears to be greater in tumors with certain mutations.

Now what?

It’s too soon to suggest that women should take aspirin to prevent breast cancer. Studies like these can show a link between taking a medication (such as low-dose aspirin) and the risk of a particular condition (such as breast cancer), but cannot prove that aspirin actually caused the reduction in breast cancer risk. So we’ll need a proper clinical trial — one that compares rates of breast cancer among women randomly assigned to receive aspirin or placebo — to determine whether aspirin treatment lowers the risk of breast cancer.

Warning: All drugs come with side effects

Keep in mind that all medications, including aspirin, can cause side effects. While aspirin is generally considered safe, it can cause gastrointestinal ulcers, bleeding, and allergic reactions. And aspirin is usually avoided in children and teens, due to the risk of a rare but serious condition called Reye’s syndrome that can harm the brain, liver, and other organs.

Stay tuned

Low-dose aspirin is often prescribed to help treat or prevent cardiovascular disease, such as heart disease and strokes. A 2016 study estimated that if more people took aspirin as recommended for cardiovascular disease treatment or prevention, hundreds of thousands of lives and billions of dollars in healthcare costs would be saved. That might be an underestimate if the drug’s anti-cancer effects are confirmed. But aspirin is not beneficial for everyone — and some people need to avoid taking it. So, ask your doctor if taking aspirin regularly is a good idea for you.

Follow me on Twitter @RobShmerling.

The post Aspirin and breast cancer risk: How a wonder drug may become more wonderful appeared first on Harvard Health Blog.

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The FDA and CDC Promised Transparency in the Vaccine Approval Process. Here’s How Congress Can Hold Them to It

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a devastating impact on the health and economic well-being of families and communities across the country, and this virus will remain a significant threat until a safe and effective vaccine can be made available to all. While we all hope to get potential vaccines reviewed, produced and distributed as…

The FDA and CDC Promised Transparency in the Vaccine Approval Process. Here’s How Congress Can Hold Them to It
COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a devastating impact on the health and economic well-being of families and communities across the country, and this virus will remain a significant threat until a safe and effective vaccine can be made available to all.

While we all hope to get potential vaccines reviewed, produced and distributed as quickly as possible, we can’t sacrifice safety and efficacy for speed. It is also critically important that the public has confidence in the federal government’s vaccine review process, which includes assurances that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has followed the necessary protocols to ensure vaccine safety and effectiveness. Together, we’ve introduced the Safe Authorization for Vaccines during Emergencies (SAVE) Act to ensure that the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) follow well-established measures so that COVID-19 vaccines meet rigorous standards that the public can rely on.

The FDA and CDC have existing vaccine review processes that are considered the gold standard by public-health experts around the world. During the normal vaccine approval process, the CDC and FDA each have advisory committees that meet and issue findings and recommendations on the safety and effectiveness of vaccines before they enter the market, including whether specific vaccines are safe for certain populations such as children or seniors.

For the COVID-19 vaccine, however, an expedited review process called an emergency use authorization is being used. There’s never been an emergency use authorization for a new vaccine before, and it is important to ensure that any expedited review process does not come at the expense of safety and efficacy.

Keep up to date with our daily coronavirus newsletter by clicking.

By taking key oversight measures, we can ensure the safety and effectiveness of a potential vaccine and promote transparency, even during an expedited process. By extension, we can also help bolster public confidence in the vaccine review process, as well as any vaccine product that enters the market. However, we have a lot of work ahead of us. Public trust in the vaccine approval process is critical to achieving widespread use, and right now, the public is skeptical.

A CBS poll released in September found that two-thirds of Americans would think the process had been rushed if a vaccine enters the market this year, and only one in five plan to get vaccinated as soon as possible. Another poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation showed that 62% of Americans worry that political pressure will lead to premature approval of a vaccine. If a majority of Americans are unwilling to take a vaccine, that vaccine will not be able to provide our communities with the protection that we need to return to normal life.

We must make sure that doctors and public-health experts are evaluating each vaccine as it is being reviewed and are providing feedback in a public, transparent manner that is free from political influence. Doing so will help strengthen the safety of a vaccine and bolster the American people’s confidence in it.

At a recent Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing, FDA commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn and CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield committed that their respective agencies would conduct oversight measures, including allowing their independent advisory committees to meet, review data and issue public findings as part of the expedited COVID-19 vaccine review process.

In addition, in September leading COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers took an unprecedented step of jointly releasing a public pledge committing to an evidence-based vaccine review process focused solely on safety and efficacy.

We need to enshrine these commitments into law. That’s what the SAVE Act does.

Our bipartisan bill codifies into law that these FDA and CDC advisory committee meetings must meet and report findings, even if a COVID-19 vaccine goes through the expedited emergency use authorization process. And if these meetings do not occur, the Secretary of Health and Human Services must publicly explain why.

Our bill will help ensure that a vaccine review process can take place in a transparent way, free from political influence, without slowing down its development.

A safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine is the only way we will be able to fully reopen our economy and get back to our normal lives. Through this bipartisan legislation, we can help reassure Americans when a vaccine is available, that it is safe.

Please send any tips, leads, and stories to .

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