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Aspirin Helps Some Head and Neck Cancer Patients

May 8th, 2019

Many people take aspirin to lessen pain, lower a fever, or prevent a heart attack or stroke, but new research published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine reports that taking aspirin may also help treat patients with some types of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC)—cancers that affect the mouth, throat, voice box, nose, and sinus cavity. Researcher Matthew Hedberg, MD, PhD, and his team at the University of Pittsburgh found that regular use of aspirin improved outcomes for people with HNSCC whose cancers were related to a gene called PIK3CA. 

The study involved 266 participants from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center who had surgery to remove a HNSCC tumor. Researchers analyzed survival rates based on their PIK3CA gene status and how often they took non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs), such as aspirin. The researchers found that people with PIK3CA-altered HNSCC who regularly took aspirin had a significantly increased rate of survival when done in combination with standard treatment including surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. Regular use was defined at 2 or more doses per week for 6 months.

Because the PIK3CA gene is related to other types of cancer, such as ovarian, breast, lung, brain, stomach, and colorectal cancers, this research suggests that aspirin could have even more uses as a cancer treatment. According to the study authors, “Adjuvant NSAID administration may significantly improve outcome in many PIK3CA-altered cancers. The implication of our findings may provide a dramatic impact on human health.”

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