Indeed, we shouldn’t be taking aspirin willy-nilly because it can cause damage to the liver over the long term. However, recent research shows that it may help with an even more pernicious condition.
A new study from UC Irvine shows that aspirin can slow the evolution of colorectal cancer cells.
An evolutionary approach
Cancer is caused by cells dividing uncontrollably. While scientists have known that aspirin can help prevent the development of colorectal cancer cells, they weren’t quite sure how. This new study shows that aspirin changes the way colorectal cancer cell populations evolve over time
“Cancer arises because cells evolve from a healthy state toward a pathogenic state where the cells divide without stopping. This happens when cells acquire a number of mutations, and these mutations are selected. We found that aspirin affects these evolutionary processes and slows them down,” said Dominik Wodarz, professor of population health and disease prevention at the University of California Irvine.
Basically, aspirin alters the birth and death rates of cancer cells, slowing down cancer growth before it gets harmful or lethal.
In 2011, one clinical trial examined patients who were suffering from Lynch syndrome, an inherited condition that increases the chances of colorectal cancer and others. Patients who took 600 milligrams of aspirin each day for two years had a 63 percent reduction in colorectal cancer occurrence. Many other studies corroborate the same correlation, but this is the first study to offer an evolutionary explanation.
“The novel part is really saying that aspirin changes the evolutionary outcome of carcinogenesis,” Wodarz says. “This work is an example showing that mathematical approaches can be very useful to understand complex phenomena in cancer biology; such insights would not be possible to obtain by experimentation alone. It requires the collaboration of empirical biological work and mathematics.”
So, if you have a risk of colorectal cancer, ask your doctor if aspirin might be the right medicine for you.
Source Study: eLife — Aspirin’s effect on kinetic parameters of cells contributes to its role in reducing incidence of advanced colorectal adenomas, shown by a multiscale computational study | eLife (elifesciences.org)