Can Aspirin Fight Cancer?

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A new study shows that women who took aspirin regularly were much less likely to develop the most common form of lung cancer.

The Early Show discussed with Dr. Michael Thun, chief epidemiologist with the American Cancer Society in Atlanta, the implication of the study.

Lung cancer kills more people than any other cancer in the United States. However, the common aspirin may help fight the deadly disease, according to researchers at New York University School of Medicine.

"This latest study adds weight to a growing body of evidence that aspirin has an anti-cancer effect," said Dr. Thun. "But our knowledge is in the preliminary stages and more study is needed to confirm the results before we start prescribing the drug to prevent or treat the disease."

Researchers at NYU stressed that smoking tobacco mainly causes lung cancer and quitting the habit is the primary prevention tool against the disease.

Since 1987 lung cancer has been ahead of breast cancer as the leading cause of cancer death in women. There will be an estimated 169,400 new cases of lung cancer in 2002, about 13 percent of new cancers overall. An estimated 154,900 will die from the disease; about 28 percent of cancer deaths overall. The incidence rate is declining in men and the increase in women has leveled off as of 1998.

The study questioned 14,000 women in New York about their long-term use of aspirin and the medical histories of 81 women who developed lung cancer were compared with more than 800 who didn't. Smoking was the biggest factor in the development of the disease, but researchers found women who took aspirin regularly had less than half the normal risk of suffering from non-small cell lung cancer, the most common form of the disease.

The researchers said they need larger-scale research to confirm the results of the study, but it's certainly consistent with other evidence for the health benefits of the drug.

Studies have also shown that aspirin may also help to protect against colon cancer, and researchers are also conducting studies into its impact on other cancers.

Although scientists do not know how aspirin reduces the risk of cancer, they suspect it could be do with its anti-inflammatory effects and inhibition of an enzyme produced by some cancer cells.

"The good news is there has been progress in getting people to quit, and there has also been progress in our ability to treat the disease," said Thun.