Widely-used painkiller could keep cancer at bay

Ibuprofen tablets
Ibuprofen tablets
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ONE of the most commonly used painkillers may offer ­protection against bladder ­cancer, a study suggests.

New research has found that popular drug ibuprofen may interact with a cancer protein to stem tumour growth.

It found people who took the painkiller on a regular basis and those with certain gene ­markers – which control the way their body reacts to painkillers – ­benefited the most.

Bladder cancer is the fourth most common cancer in men in Scotland and every day around three people are diagnosed with the disease. A team of US researchers in New England looked at the effects of the drug on more than 3,000 people with and without cancer.

They found people who had taken the drug for several years were less likely to have been ­diagnosed with the cancer.

Team leader Dr Margaret ­Karagas said: “The findings suggest that regular use of non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs, particularly ibuprofen, may reduce bladder cancer risk, especially among regular users for ten years or more.”

The expert, director of the Cancer Epidemiology programme at Norris Cotton Cancer Centre in New Hampshire, said her team looked at 39 different genes which are linked to the way the body metabolises ­anti-inflammatory drugs.

She said people with these genes taking ibuprofen were the least likely to develop the cancer, with the drug and the way the body metabolises it seeming to defend against the disease.

However, the researchers found not all anti-inflammatory drugs acted the same way.

Dr Karagas said: “One of the novel findings was a trend of an increased risk of bladder cancer for those using selective COX-2 inhibitors, especially Celebrex.”

Celebrex, or celecoxib, is a popular painkiller for a range of conditions, including types of arthritis, and acute pain in adults.

Dr Karagas said: “It does not, in any way, suggest patients begin taking ibuprofen as a prophylactic measure against bladder cancer, nor should patients go off any medicine prescribed by their doctor. Further investigation is needed into this area.”

The study was published in the International Journal of Cancer, after research showed New England had a high mortality rate for bladder cancer. The finding could point to new ways of fighting that and other cancers.

Ibuprofen belongs to a class of drugs known as “profens”. Previous studies have shown the body processes profens through the protein AMACR, which is also important in many cancer types.

It is thought to boost the energy supply to tumours. The link may explain laboratory evidence that ibuprofen can act against some cancers.

But previous studies linked ibuprofen to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.