AUG 13, 2019 8:31 AM PDT

Aspirin: The Good and Bad for Breast Cancer Survivors

WRITTEN BY: Nouran Amin

Early research has indicated that aspirin usage may increase the survival rate among women with breast cancer. These studies were based on aspirin’s anti-inflammatory effects on the body. Unfortunately, a portion of these women who took aspirin had an increased risk of mortality. However, a portion of aspirin users with breast cancer appeared to have a higher risk of mortality. It appears that this risk may be due to the process of ‘DNA methylation’ of breast cancer genes or genes in the peripheral blood.

The process of methylation is purely chemical and involves a methyl group ‘switching-on’ or ‘switching-off’ genetic activity has it goes along a DNA molecule. DNA methylation can involve chemical shifts that lead to fatal consequences. The study was the first to observe the effects of methylating DNA in samples of breast tumor issues and peripheral blood cells circulating in patients as well as understanding how these effects are associated with aspirin usage and mortality rates in women with breast cancer.

"Chronic inflammation is a key player in the development of multiple cancer types, including breast cancer," said first author Tengteng Wang, who led this study while she was a doctoral candidate in the epidemiology department at the Gillings School. "Aspirin is a major non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug which has anti-inflammatory properties. Given this, substantial evidence from laboratory and population studies suggests that taking aspirin may reduce the risk of developing breast cancer."

Learn more about DNA Methylation and Cancer:

"Future research designed to replicate our findings should include a larger sample size to allow examination of patterns of aspirin use, and an enlarged panel of genes to explore the role of genetic predisposition in driving overall genetic instability on survival after breast cancer diagnosis," said Wang and her mentor Marilie Gammon, a professor of epidemiology at the Gillings School and senior author on the study.

Findings of the study were published in the American Cancer Society's interdisciplinary journal CANCER, and indicates that the relationship between aspirin use and mortality rates remains inconclusive and inconsistent.

Source: UNC Chapel Hill

About the Author
  • Nouran earned her BS and MS in Biology at IUPUI and currently shares her love of science by teaching. She enjoys writing on various topics as well including science & medicine, global health, and conservation biology. She hopes through her writing she can make science more engaging and communicable to the general public.
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