Thursday, February 18, 2010

Aspirin cuts breast cancer deaths, 30-year study claims

SO: Nurses who took a lot of aspirin got less cancer -- but why? Third factors cannot be ruled out. Perhaps people who use a lot of aspirin are less likely to use illegal drugs -- which can be very harmful. It took me a whole two minutes to think of that alternative explanation. Why can medical researchers not do the same?

WOMEN with breast cancer who take aspirin at least twice a week can more than double their chance of surviving, researchers say. The greatest protection comes from taking the drug two, three, four or five times a week, a study has found. They cut the risk of dying by 71 per cent and the risk of the cancer spreading by 60 per cent. Taking aspirin on six or seven days cut the death risk by 64 per cent, but the risk of spreading fell only 43 per cent.

The findings of the U.S. study provide the most compelling evidence yet of the power of the cheap painkiller, The Daily Mail reports. Previous research has suggested that aspirin can protect against bowel cancer, although results for other cancers, such as breast and prostate, were less clear-cut.

The latest dramatic results came from a 30-year project tracking the health of 238,000 nurses. Lead researcher Dr Michelle Holmes, of Harvard Medical School, said: "This is the first study to find that aspirin can significantly reduce the risk of cancer spread and death for women who have been treated for early-stage breast cancer. 'If these findings are confirmed in other clinical trials, taking aspirin may become another simple, low-cost and relatively safe tool to help women with breast cancer live longer, healthier lives.'

Drugs in the same class as aspirin, including ibuprofen and naproxen, also lowered the risks, but paracetamol did not.

Experts warned, however, that aspirin can have serious side effects, including stomach irritation that can lead to ulcers and even fatal bleeding. For some people the risk of harm is greater than potential benefits.

Women newly diagnosed with breast cancer are advised not to take aspirin for the first 12 months as it can cause side effects while they undergo chemotherapy or radiation. Researchers are uncertain exactly how aspirin affects tumours but it could be by lowering inflammation. The study found that there were no beneficial effects for people who took aspirin only once a week....

Most of the women in the new study, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, were taking aspirin to prevent heart disease. The Harvard team identified 4,000 breast cancer patients between 1976 and 2002 and followed them until their deaths or the end of the study in June 2006. Altogether 341 women died from the cancer.

The Harvard study falls short of the research 'gold standard', however, because the women reported their aspirin use in questionnaires, rather than going through a controlled clinical trial.


"Cholesterol-busting" statins increase diabetes risk

Yet another unhealthy side-effect. How odd that there is no mention below of other common statin side effects -- such as muscle pain, muscle weakening and muscle wasting. See here for more statin skepticism

Cholesterol-busting wonder drugs taken by millions to prevent a heart attack also increase their chances of developing diabetes, according to a new study. A comprehensive review of the available evidence shows that statins raise the risk of becoming diabetic by around 9 per cent.

However, experts warn that the absolute risk of developing the condition remains low and is heavily outweighed by the protection from heart problems provided by the drugs. Around 2.5 million people in Britain currently take the medication every day.

Lauded as a “wonder” drug, statins work by reducing cholesterol levels in the body, a major risk factor for heart attacks. Studies have shown that they can also dramatically reduce the risk of suffering a blood clot and there have even been suggestions that they could be used as a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis.

However, researchers who looked at 13 studies involving more than 91,000 patients found that there was also a small increased risk of developing diabetes associated with the drugs. The increased risk mainly affected the over 60s.

However, the authors of the review, from the University of Glasgow, warn that people prescribed statins should not stop taking their medication. They write: “In view of the overwhelming benefit of statins for reduction of cardiovascular events, the small absolute risk for development of diabetes is outweighed by cardiovascular benefit in the short and medium term in individuals for whom statin therapy is recommended."

That view was backed by diabetes and heart charities. Dr Iain Frame, from Diabetes UK, said: "This small increased risk is heavily outweighed by the benefits of statins in those at high risk of heart problems. “This research, therefore, should on no account be taken as a reason for those over 60 at high risk of heart disease to stop taking statins."

The findings, published by The Lancet medical journal, show that 255 patients would have to be treated with statins for four years to result in one extra case of diabetes. In the same group of patients over that time around five deaths or heart attacks would have been prevented and around the same number of strokes.

The authors stress that their findings do not show any biological reason why statins increase the chances of developing of diabetes, although they say it is possible that there is one. They suggest that older people on the drugs be monitored by their doctor for warning signs that they are developing the condition. The increased risks should also be taken into account if doctors are considering prescribing statins to those at a low risk of heart problems.

In Britain only those at high risk of developing heart disease are prescribed the medication. However, some experts have suggested that statins could be included in a so-called polypill, a five-in-one drug which would also include aspirin and three blood pressure-lowering medications and which could be given even to healthy people to help protect them.

More than 2.5 million people in Britain are thought to have diabetes, although experts predict that that could rise to as many as four million by 2050 because of lifestyle factors, including obesity.


Prostate cancer breakthrough drug 'to be available next year'

A prostate cancer 'wonder pill' could be on the market next year. Abiraterone hit the headlines two years ago, with stunning trial results in which it shrank tumours in 80 per cent of men whose cancer had spread throughout their body. The once-a-day drug also eased pain in many and was hailed as the biggest breakthrough in the field for 60 years.

Now further tests have underlined its potential and larger trials are under way. If they are successful, it could be prescribed to men in the advanced stages of the disease as early as next year, giving them the hope of precious extra months with their families.

Abiraterone is a 'home-grown' drug, discovered by scientists funded by Cancer Research UK and working at the Institute for Cancer Research at London's Royal Marsden Hospital. It works by blocking testosterone, including any made by the tumour itself, from fuelling the cancer's growth. In the latest study, it was given in pill form to 47 men in advanced stages of the cancer who had exhausted all other treatment options, including a drug called docetaxel.

Researcher Johann de Bono said: 'Docetaxel is an important drug but it extends life for an average of just two to three months, so there is a desperate need to improve options for late-stage patients. Abiraterone shrank or stabilised tumours for an average of almost six months, which is a very impressive result.'

Levels of PSA, a blood protein used as a measure of tumour growth and spread, fell in 75 per cent of the men, the Journal of Clinical Oncology reports. Any sideeffects were mild and easily treated.

Dr Helen Rippon of the Prostate Cancer Charity, which is also funding research into the drug, said: 'These findings are particularly important as they offer new hope to men who can quickly run out of treatment options once their tumour stops responding.'

Prostate is Britain's most common cancer among men and the second highest killer, after lung cancer. Some 35,000 people a year are diagnosed with it - and 12,000 die. There are two types, aggressive and non-aggressive. Two-thirds of victims have the non-aggressive variety and can often lead a healthy life. But those with the aggressive version usually die within 18 months of diagnosis. Abiraterone can shrink aggressive tumours, although the effect does not last indefinitely.


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