The answer could already be in your medicine cabinet

February 21, 2012 | by City of Hope Staff

Before there was St. Elsewhere, ER, Chicago Hope, Gray’s Anatomy and other similar shows focusing on the tragicomic melodramas in a hospital, we had omniscient TV physicians who made house calls and seemed to cure all ailments with one prescription:

Photo of man taking two aspirin“Take two of these and call me in the morning.”

Turns out that might be good medicine when it comes to aspirin. City of Hope researchers, led by Leslie Bernstein, Ph.D., director of the Division of Cancer Etiology, and Shiuan Chen, Ph.D., director of the Division of Tumor Cell Biology, are investigating the role the common pain reliever may have in breast cancer prevention. Add that to the other benefits scientists worldwide are studying — preventing heart disease, asthma, blood clots, liver damage and more — and the simple pill might be uncommonly powerful.

City of Hope’s study team aims to confirm that aspirin can suppress the expression of aromatase, a substance in the body that helps create estrogen. Since most breast cancers need estrogen to grow, blocking aromatase has proven to be a powerful way to treat breast cancer. In other studies, Chen has demonstrated how mushrooms, pomegranates and grape seed extract are “super foods” that seem to have a natural ability to block aromatase.

Using the California Teachers Study, an ongoing study tracking the health of more than 133,000 women, the team also will look at how use of aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs affect women’s breast cancer risk and survival.

Across the Pacific, Australian researchers announced findings on Tuesday hinting that aspirin also may interfere with cancer spread by keeping vessels in the lymphatic system from dilating.

If researchers confirm that aspirin prevents breast cancer and reduces breast cancer progression, they will have identified an inexpensive, accessible method to reduce breast cancer risk. Chen and his colleagues believe that such a discovery could provide particular benefits to women from underserved populations.

(The researchers are mum on whether they’ll ever tackle what an apple a day really does.)

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