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Tuesday, 12 March, 2002, 11:44 GMT
Painkillers 'prevent prostate cancers'
Aspirin
Common painkillers such as aspirin may help
Men who take certain types of painkiller may be lowering their risk of developing prostate cancer, says a scientific study.

It is possible they do this by reducing inflammation which has been linked to cancerous tissue changes.

However, the results are not enough to convince even the researchers involved in the study that millions of elderly men should be getting the drugs.

Some patients react badly to long-term painkiller use, suffering gastric bleeding and liver problems - and there is no guarantee that the benefits to one group of patients would outweigh the risks to another.

The researchers, from the Mayo Clinic, looked at 1,362 men over a five and a half year period.

Some were given a regular dose of the type of painkillers called "non-steroidal anti-inflammatories" - which include ibuprofen and aspirin, while the rest were not.

Over the 66-month period, 9% of the non-treated group developed prostate cancer, while only 4% of those given the painkillers were diagnosed with the disease.

Right dose

The older the patient, the more apparent protection was offered by the painkillers.

This echoes similar, if not so pronounced, findings in both breast and colon cancer.

However, the researchers say that more work needs to be done to confirm the findings - and make sure that the drug would not do more harm than good.

Dr Rosebud Roberts, one of the researchers, said: "We also need to determine the duration and dosage use that provides protection against prostate cancer, and to better understand the biologic mechanisms underlying the association between NSAIDs and prostate cancer."

She plans additional research into African American men - who appear to have the highest prostate cancer risk - to see if the results can be reproduced there.

Screening controversy

Prostate cancer has become one of the most commonly-diagnosed cancers in elderly men.

It affects a small gland just below the bladder, which produces a component of semen.

While some of these cancers can be relatively slow-moving, not requiring drastic treatments or surgery, others are aggressive, spreading to other parts of the body if not caught early and treated.

Some doctors argue in favour of regular prostate screening using a blood test, although this is controversial, as it is feared some men might undergo unnecessary and potentially damaging surgery on the basis of "false positive" test results.

See also:

28 Feb 02 | Health
Cancer cases on the rise
22 Jan 02 | Health
Prostate cancer gene identified
25 Oct 01 | Health
Prostate test counselling 'vital'
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