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Last Updated: Monday, 29 December, 2003, 17:25 GMT
Aspirin 'may block cancer cases'
Aspirin has many beneficial effects
A major trial will test if aspirin and an anti-ulcer drug can prevent cancer of the oesophagus .

The aim will be to prevent a condition known as 'Barrett's oesophagus'.

Although not cancer itself, it can trigger the disease, and is responsible for about half of all cancers of the oesophagus (food pipe).

Five thousand men who are at risk of the cancer will be recruited for the trail from 100 UK centres by the charity Cancer Research UK.

By successfully treating Barrett's oesophagus we could prevent up to a half of cases of oesophageal cancer in this trial.
Professor Janusz Jankowski
There are over 7,000 cases and a similar number of deaths every year in the UK from this type of oesophageal cancer.

The number of cases has climbed by 12% over the last decade.

Barrett's oesophagus, which affects up to 2% of the UK population, is caused when stomach acid regularly ebbs back from the stomach into the oesophagus.

The acid damage causes a change to the cells in the lining of the oesophagus.

These cells are not cancerous, but they can become so later.

Small proportion

Oesophageal cancer symptoms
Difficulty swallowing
Weight loss
Pain or discomfort in the throat or back, behind the breastbone or between the shoulder blades
Acid indigestion
Hoarseness or chronic cough
Vomiting or regurgitation of blood
Lead researcher Professor Janusz Jankowski, based at the Digestive Diseases Centre, University of Leicester, said: "Only a small proportion of those with Barrett's oesophagus will develop oesophageal cancer.

"However, in the UK the number of those developing this cancer because of Barrett's oesophagus is very high compared to the rest of the western world - 3-4 times the level seen in Europe or the US.

"By successfully treating Barrett's oesophagus we could prevent up to a half of cases of oesophageal cancer in this trial."

The researchers will use aspirin and a drug that prevents acid formation in the stomach called esomeprazole to try to prevent Barrett's oesophagus.

Previous studies have suggested that aspirin reduces the number of cases of oesophageal cancer.

People with Barrett's oesophagus are also more likely to suffer from heart problems - another area where aspirin has been shown to be of benefit.

However, one of aspirin's side effects is an increased risk of stomach ulcers. It is hoped that esomeprazole will minimise that risk.

Esomeprazole is used as an anti-ulcer drug because it neutralizes stomach acid.

A high dose of the drug may minimise damage to the lining of the oesophagus and help promote healing - blocking the subsequent switch to cancer.

Professor Jankowski said: "The UK is at the epicentre of an explosion in this cancer. We hope these drugs will offer a simple method of preventing this particularly aggressive form of the disease.

Professor Robert Souhami, director of clinical and external affairs at Cancer Research UK, said: "This large-scale trial may be the first step towards a promising and realistic method of preventing many cases of this form of cancer - an opportunity to close the stable door before the horse has bolted."

Aspirin 'prevents cancer'
05 Mar 03  |  Health
'Cancer sign' identified
27 Mar 02  |  Health
Oesophageal cancer
17 Mar 00  |  C-D

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