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Daily dose of painkiller can cut bowel cancer risk

A new study has found that taking a low-dose painkiller such as an aspirin on a daily basis may help to cut the risk of developing colorectal (bowel) cancer.

The study conducted by scientists from the Danish Cancer Society Research Centre and published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, found that taking a daily dose of aspirin of 75 to 150 milligrams for a five year period, can reduce the risk of developing bowel cancer by 27%.

The study also found that continuous daily use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen for greater than a five year period could cut the risk of developing the debilitating disease by 30 – 45%.

Dr. Soren Friis, who led the investigation, reported that “if an aspirin is taken at low doses in a continuous manner, it may achieve a substantial protective effect against bowel cancer. However the use of NSAIDs to prevent bowel cancer is limited due to risk of possible gastrointestinal bleeding in addition to a number of cardiovascular risks. These potentially major side effects will need to be balanced against the chemopreventive benefits that the results of the study indicate.”

The study showed that non-aspirin NSAIDs had the ability to suppress the activity of the COX- 2 enzyme, a pro-inflammatory enzyme. COX-2 selective inhibitors have been used for many years as a preventative measure of bowel cancer. The COX-2 enzyme has properties that promote the growth of tumours. When the enzyme is expressed in the intestine, it’s unidentifiable, but levels of expression are increased by up to 90% in the case of bowel cancer.

Animal studies using mice as the study model have shown that inhibiting the COX-2 enzyme can reduce both the number and size of intestinal polyps (growths on the lining of the intestine). This in turn can reduce the risk of tumour growth.  In human clinical studies, it has also been found that the use of COX-2 specific inhibitors have fewer gastrointestinal side effects than non-selective NSAIDs.

These drugs have the potential to become widely used as a form of anti-bowel cancer medication, preventing a disease that causes over sixteen thousand deaths per year in the UK alone and further millions worldwide.

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