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Women's Health

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Painkillers Help Prevent Breast Cancer

Ibuprofen Can Reduce Risk by 50%, Study Finds


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.

"I am only recommending what I do," said Harris, professor of epidemiology and biometrics at Ohio State University. "We should wait for clinical studies to make precise recommendations, but at this point I would say women might consider taking [regular] standard doses of one of these compounds as long as they tell their physician about it."

But a breast cancer prevention expert with the National Cancer Institute (NCI) says women should not yet take aspirin, ibuprofen, or any other NSAID to lower their risk of breast cancer. Roughly 1% of people who take them regularly develop stomach and intestinal bleeding, which is serious -- and potentially deadly -- in about one in 10 people.

"Until definitive clinical studies are done we won't really know if the benefits of taking these drugs for prevention outweigh the risks," Ernest Hawk MD, MPH, tells WebMD. "So we find ourselves in the unusual position of having cheap, easily available, and widely accepted drugs, but not being able to say if they should be used for this reason." Hawk is chief of gastrointestinal cancer prevention for the NCI.

A similar study, also published in the Proceedings of the AACR meeting, found that low doses of the Cox-2 inhibitor Celebrex may protect against colon cancer when combined with fish oil. In this preliminary study, the combination suppressed cell growth and promoted cell death in a human colon cancer cells. Lead researcher C.V. Rao, PhD, of the Institute for Cancer Prevention says it is likely that a combination of drugs will prove to be more effective than single drugs for preventing certain cancers.

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