Over-the-counter pain reliever may slow recurrence in breast cancer patients

SAN ANTONIO (August 14, 2014) — With promising new information on the risks of obesity and the benefits of anti-inflammatories, researchers at the Cancer Therapy & Research Center have launched a new study on aspirin and fish oil open to postmenopausal women who are cancer-free.

It’s based on their own findings published today in the journal Cancer Research, which reveal that some postmenopausal overweight breast cancer patients who use common anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin or ibuprofen have significantly lower breast cancer recurrence rates.

Researchers from the CTRC at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and The University of Texas at Austin began that study by examining blood serum from CTRC breast cancer patients, said CTRC oncologist Andrew Brenner,
M.D., Ph.D.

They placed the serum in a culture of fat cells that make estrogen, and then placed the serum on breast cancer cells. The serum from overweight and obese patients caused the cancer cells to grow much more aggressively than the serum from patients who were not overweight.

“It looks like the mechanism is prostaglandins, which have a role in inflammation, and there’s more of it in the obese patient serum,” Dr. Brenner said.

Based on those findings, the researchers did a retrospective study on patients from the CTRC and the START Center for Cancer Care. They were segregated into those taking COX2 inhibitors (aspirin or ibuprofen) and those who did not.

“Patients who were on COX2 inhibitors tended to have a lower recurrence rate,” Dr. Brenner said.

Cancer researcher Linda deGraffenried, Ph.D., from The University of Texas at Austin, designed the just-published study, working closely with Dr. Brenner and Murali Beeram, M.D., a cancer specialist from the START Center.

The investigators caution that these results are preliminary.

“Overweight or obese women diagnosed with breast cancer are facing a worse prognosis than normal-weight women,” said Dr. deGraffenried, who is also adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Cellular and Structural Biology at the Health Science Center. “We believe that obese women are facing a different disease. There are changes at the molecular level. We want to reduce the disease-promoting effects of obesity.”

Based on those results, the CTRC launched the anti-inflammatory trial in a joint venture with UT Austin.

“To do a big clinical trial is costly, so we’re starting small,” Dr. Brenner said. “It’s open to any healthy, cancer-free woman who is post-menopausal and not currently taking aspirin or omega-3 fatty acids. That doesn’t mean they can’t have taken some aspirin for a headache from time to time. We’ll just ask them to switch to Tylenol for two weeks.”

Ultimately, he said, they will enroll 120 women, dividing the group into thirds. One third will get aspirin for 30 days, one third will get Omega-3 fatty acids in the form of fish oil supplements, and one third will get both. Their blood serum will be tested at the beginning and the end of the study.

“If there is a significant difference between the serum at the beginning and at the end, then we can look at doing a larger study,” Dr. Brenner said.

Women interested in participating in the study can call 450-7549. Participants will be compensated $150.

The study published in Cancer Research was funded by the United States Department of Defense, Breast Cancer Research Program (W81XWH-11-1-0132) and by the National Cancer Institute (CA054174). The current study is funded by a pilot grant from the Cancer Therapy & Research Center through its National Cancer Institute P30 grant.


The Cancer Therapy & Research Center (CTRC) at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio is one of the elite academic cancer centers in the country to be named a National Cancer Institute (NCI) Designated Cancer Center, and is one of only four in Texas. A leader in developing new drugs to treat cancer, the CTRC Institute for Drug Development (IDD) conducts one of the largest oncology Phase I clinical drug programs in the world, and participates in development of cancer drugs approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. For more information, visit www.ctrc.net.

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