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Can Aspirin Help Prevent Ovarian Cancer?

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WebMD Health News

March 7, 2001 (Nashville, Tenn.) -- It has been commercially available for a century, but aspirin is beginning to look like one of the first wonder drugs of the new millennium. The pain reliever has been shown to help prevent heart attacks and strokes. Now there is evidence that aspirin use on a regular basis may also prevent one of the most deadly cancers affecting women, and researchers say it may reduce the risk of other cancers as well.

A study presented here at the 32nd annual meeting of the Society for Gynecologic Oncologists suggests that regular aspirin use for at least six months is associated with a significant reduction in ovarian cancer -- as much as 40%, researchers say. But they add that it is too early to recommend the routine use of even low-dose aspirin solely to prevent ovarian cancer. That is because long-term aspirin use can result in gastrointestinal bleeding and other serious side effects.

"Ultimately, we will need a large, clinical trial to answer this question," lead researcher Arsian Akhmedkhanov, MD, tells WebMD. "But we believe that this protective effect may not be limited to ovarian cancer. It has been suggested that aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, reduce the risk of colorectal cancers, and we believe they may have a protective effect in other cancers where inflammation may play a role."

Because early diagnosis is difficult, most cases of ovarian cancer are discovered at advanced -- and much less treatable -- stages. More women die from ovarian cancer than from any other gynecological malignancy, and the risk increases with age.

Akhmedkhanov and his team of New York University (NYU) researchers evaluated surveys from a large, long-term, prospective study of women in New York State, designed to assess lifestyle and other risk factors for disease. In 1985, approximately 14,000 women were enrolled in that study, and they were followed for an average of 12 years. A total of 68 epithelial ovarian cancer patients answered their questionnaire, as did 680 women without cancer who were matched with the patients for age, menopausal status, and date of study enrollment.

"We did not set out to look at ovarian cancer prevention," Akhmedkhanov says. "Conditions that reduce inflammation, such as pregnancy and oral contraceptive use, have been shown to be associated with reduced risk of ovarian cancer. That is why we studied the association between inflammation and ovarian cancer by evaluating the use of aspirin, which is the most widely used anti-inflammatory [drug]."

Women who reported taking aspirin three times a week or more for a period of six months or longer had significantly lower risk of epithelial ovarian cancer than those who did not, and the protective effect appeared to be strongest among women who reported recent regular aspirin use.

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