Study shows aspirin can reduce colorectal cancer risks for those with specific gene

April 25, 2014

Aspirin may have just added another beneficial effect beyond its ability to ameliorate headaches and reduce the risk of heart attacks: lowering colon cancer risk among people with high levels of a specific type of gene. The finding comes from research that analyzed data and other material from two long-term studies involving nearly 128,000 participants. The researchers found that individuals whose colons have high levels of a specific gene product—15-hydroxyprostaglandin dehydrogenase (15-PGDH) RNA—dramatically reduce their chances of developing colorectal cancer by taking aspirin. In contrast, the analgesic provides no benefit to individuals whose colons show low levels of 15-PGDH. The findings appear in the current issue of Science Translational Medicine. Previous trials and prospective studies had indicated that aspirin could reduce colorectal cancer risk, but this retrospective study provides the first evidence to help explain why aspirin benefits some people, but not others.

“If you looked at the folks from the study who had high 15-PGDH levels and took aspirin, they cut their risk of colon cancer by half,” says senior author Sanford Markowitz, MD, PhD, Ingalls Professor of Cancer Genetics at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine. “If you looked at the folks from the study that were low for 15-PGDH, they did not benefit at all from taking aspirin. These findings represent a clean 'Yes-No' about who would benefit from aspirin.”

The study is among the first examples of the type of test that could allow more personalized decisions about treatment to prevent colorectal cancer. Researchers’ primary goal is to see whether it is possible to develop a test that would help guide physicians and patients in determining whether an aspirin regimen would be beneficial. Read the study abstract.

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