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The BBC's Navdip Dhariwal
"Aspirin could prevent thousands from dying"
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Tuesday, 19 September, 2000, 09:16 GMT 10:16 UK
Aspirin 'could fight prostate cancer'
Aspirin has a variety of medical uses
The "wonder-drug" aspirin may have yet another use - inhibiting the growth of one of the most common cancers in men.

Aspirin, which already appears to offer some protection against heart disease and some forms of stroke, may work by halting the work of an enzyme which encourages tumour growth.

The prostate gland - found only in men - is located close to the bladder and produces some components of semen.

More than 16,000 men are diagnosed with the illness every year, and only four in 10 are alive five years later.

Scientists at Imperial College and Hammersmith Hospital in London looked at more than 100 tissue samples taken from cancerous prostate glands.

They found unusually high levels of a body chemical called cox-II, and believe this could be encouraging the cancer cells to grow and divide.

Their theory is that any drug which acts to inhibit the effects of cox-II would be able to slow down, or perhaps even stop the advance of prostate cancer.

Long-term control

As the illness predominantly affects older men, effective long-term control of cancer growth, as opposed to potentially damaging surgery or radiotherapy, would be an preferred treatment plan.

Aspirin, a very cheap drug developed many decades ago as a painkiller, is known to be able to work against cox-II.

However, long-term aspirin use is discouraged because it can contribute to stomach ulcers and the more likely drug of choice would be a specialised "cox-II" inhibitor, developed to treat conditions such as Crohn's disease without these side-effects.

So the potential cost-savings to the NHS are not as significant.

Dr Paul Abel, a neurologist at Imperial College, told the BBC: "Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men, and the second commonest cause of cancer death in the world.

"Aspirin and aspirin-like drugs can inhibit the action of cox and may be of value in treating cancer."

However, he added: "I would not advise people to rush off and take aspirin."

There is also a suggestion that cox-II has a role in the development of colon cancer - another big killer in the UK.

He hopes to start clinical trials of cox-II inhibitors in prostate cancer patients within a few months, and their effectiveness should become clear within a few years.

However, it could be 10 to 15 years, he warned, before it was apparent whether the drugs could help prevent cancer developing in the first place.

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See also:

28 Jan 00 | Health
Aspirin 'as good as heart drug'
13 Apr 00 | Health
Aspirin cuts blood clot danger
02 Mar 99 | Health
100 years of aspirin
17 Mar 00 | C-D
Prostate cancer
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