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Aspirin, ulcer drug may prevent cancer

British scientists said  they had launched a major clinical study to see whether a combination of aspirin and an anti-ulcer drug could prevent thousands of cases of cancer of the esophagus, or foodpipe.
/ Source: Reuters

British scientists said on Monday they had launched a major clinical study to see whether a combination of aspirin and an anti-ulcer drug could prevent thousands of cases of cancer of the esophagus, or foodpipe.

Millions of people already take aspirin to relieve headaches and arthritis and to prevent heart attacks and stroke. More recently, however, researchers have also suggested the century-old drug could have a protective effect against cancer.

The trial will recruit 5,000 men at risk of cancer and last 10 years, making it one of the largest cancer prevention trials in the world.

Patients will be given aspirin alongside AstraZeneca Plc’s ulcer pill Nexium, with the aim of preventing a pre-cancerous condition developing and subsequently becoming cancerous.

Impact on enzyme
Esophageal cancer can start with a disorder called Barrett’s esophagus, caused when stomach acid regularly flows back from the stomach -- one of the symptoms of this being heartburn.

Acid damage can trigger changes within cells lining the foodpipe and lead in a minority of cases to esophageal cancer, which kills around 7,000 Britons a year.

Cancer Research UK, which is funding the study, believes successful treatment of Barrett’s esophagus could prevent up to a half of cases of cancer in the trial.

Aspirin’s mechanism of action as a potential anti-cancer agent is unknown but researchers think it could cut cancer risk because of its impact on an enzyme called cyclooxegenase-2, which is involved in inflammation and is thought to be linked to the development of cancer.

If its anti-cancer properties are proven, aspirin -- which began life as a simple painkiller developed by chemists at Germany’s Bayer AG -- will consolidate its position as one of the greatest finds in the history of medicine.

One of aspirin’s side effects, however, is an increased risk of stomach ulcers. Because of this, researchers decided to combine it with a proven anti-ulcer medicine.

Nexium works by limiting acid formation in the stomach, so it may play a parallel role in minimizing damage to the lining of the esophagus.