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Painkillers Help Prevent Breast Cancer

Ibuprofen Can Reduce Risk by 50%, Study Finds
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WebMD Health News

April 9, 2003 -- They are the most exciting drugs for cancer prevention, and chances are you already have them in your medicine cabinet. Aspirin and other antiinflammatory pain relievers, such as ibuprofen, appear to help prevent breast cancer even among high-risk women, according to findings from a major new study.

Recent research suggests that people who regularly take aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) have a reduced risk of colon, lung, and even prostate cancers. The latest study is not the first, but it is the largest, to find that the over-the-counter products also prevent breast cancer. The findings were published in the Proceedings of the 2003 annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research.

Some 81,000 women between the ages of 50 and 79 taking part in the National Cancer Institute's Women's Health Initiative (WHI) were surveyed about their use of aspirin and pain relievers like ibuprofen and acetaminophen. The women were followed for approximately four years, during which time close to 1,400 women were diagnosed with breast cancer.

Regularly taking at least two NSAID tablets a week -- which doesn't include acetaminophen -- offered breast cancer prevention, regardless of whether or not they were at high risk for breast cancer. Risk was reduced by 21% among women who regularly took any anti-inflammatory drug for five to nine years. Those who took the pain relievers regularly for 10 years or more saw a 28% reduction in risk.

The study did not include the newer prescription anti-inflammatory drugs called Cox-2 inhibitors, such as Bextra, Celebrex, and Vioxx.

Ibuprofen drugs, such as Advil and Motrin, provided the most breast cancer protection. Women who took standard doses of ibuprofen regularly for 10 years or more reduced their breast cancer risk by almost 50%.

However, Tylenol and other acetaminophen-based pain relievers, which have no antiinflammatory properties, offered no breast cancer prevention. Neither did low-dose (81 mg) aspirin.

NSAIDs appear to protect against cancer by blocking Cox-2 enzymes, which trigger inflammation and are abundant in most human cancers. The drugs are believed to work in many ways, including blocking cancer cell division and blocking the development of tumor-feeding blood vessels. They may also promote the death of new cancer cells and inhibit their spread.

In a press conference, lead researcher Randall Harris, MD, PhD, said it might be time to recommend NSAIDs for breast cancer prevention. But he called for randomized clinical trials to determine the best dose and duration for preventing breast cancer. In addition, studies to determine the effectiveness of the newer class of prescription Cox-2 inhibitors are needed, he adds.

Harris says he has taken 200 mg of ibuprofen daily for more than a decade in the belief that he is lowering his risk of cancer.

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