Aspirin ‘could beat oesophageal cancer’, finds Edinburgh study

Regularly taking a high dose of anti-acid reflux medication and a low dose of aspirin could help reduce risk of the disease. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Regularly taking a high dose of anti-acid reflux medication and a low dose of aspirin could help reduce risk of the disease. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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Bathroom cabinet staple aspirin could help prevent oesophageal cancer among those at a high risk of the disease, new research suggests.

Patients living with Barrett’s oesophagus – a condition linked to chronic acid reflux – are more likely to go on to develop the cancer, which kills thousands in the UK every year.

Regularly taking a high dose of anti-acid reflux medication and a low dose of aspirin could help reduce this risk, according to the results of a Cancer Research UK-funded study.

Patients who used this over-the-counter medicine combination for at least seven years were around 20 per cent less likely to develop oesophageal cancer than if they had been untreated, the research found.

Professor Janusz Jankowski, lead author of the study, said: “Our results are very exciting. Oesophageal cancer is hard to diagnose and hard to treat.

“So, we’re pleased that such a cheap and well-established medicine can prevent and, or, delay development of cancer for these patients.

“Our hope is that this may also offer an opportunity to prevent esophageal cancer in wider populations.”

However, experts stressed only those with diagnosed Barrett’s oesophagus, not those who experience mild acid reflux, should consider the treatment.

The findings have been presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting in Chicago.

Barrett’s oesophagus, a changing of the cells in the lining of the food pipe, is partly linked to genetics and aggravated by acid reflux, experts believe.

Patients with the rare condition are at about a 50 per cent greater risk of oesophageal cancer, Cancer Research UK said. While just 2 per cent go on to develop the disease, of those who do only 12 per cent will survive for more than ten years.

The AspECT trial tracked more than 2,500 people with Barrett’s oesophagus from British and Canadian hospitals for about nine years.

Patients were split into four groups and given high or low dose of widely used Proton Pump Inhibitor (PPI) esomeprazole, which reduces the production of stomach acid, with or without a low dose of aspirin.

The most effective treatment was a high dose of the PPI and a low dose of aspirin, the study found, followed by a high dose of esomeprazole.

Smoking, drinking and diet are other known risk factors for oesophageal cancer. It is the 13th most common cancer in the UK, with 9,000 new cases and 7,900 deaths every year.

A separate study has shed new light on the way aspirin works to help stave off bowel cancer. The over-the counter painkiller had been known to reduce the risk of developing colon cancer but the drug’s tumour-fighting properties had not been well understood previously.

Scottish-based researchers have now found that the painkiller blocks a key process linked to tumour formation. Researchers at the University of Edinburgh’s Cancer Research UK centre focused on a structure found inside cells called the nucleolus.