Simple aspirin could be the key to preventing or delaying the growth of malignant mesothelioma for those who spent years working in high-risk occupations, a new report shows.
Researchers at the University of Hawaii Cancer Center concluded the popular over-the-counter medication can inhibit the growth of mesothelioma tumor cells by blocking the inflammatory effects of a particular molecule that plays a critical role in the progression of the disease.
Although the study used lab mice, its relevance already has reached the clinical stage.
“The findings were very convincing. The aspirin worked really well. It increased survival [in mice] dramatically,” associate professor of the school’s thoracic oncology program, Dr. Haining Yang, told Asbestos.com. “For anyone at high risk for mesothelioma later in life, taking aspirin might be a good option in terms of prevention.”
The medical journal Cell Death & Disease published the study in June.
People at high risk of exposure includes those with a genetic susceptibility to the disease, as well as those who worked in occupations where asbestos was prevalent such as construction, shipbuilding, military, insulation and automobile repair.
Mesothelioma is caused primarily by exposure to toxic asbestos, the naturally occurring mineral used extensively throughout much of the 20th century. Asbestos was coveted for its ability to strengthen and fireproof at a reasonable cost.
However, if microscopic asbestos fibers are inhaled or ingested, they can become lodged in the thin membrane surrounding the lungs, stomach or heart, causing chronic inflammation and scaring.
It could lead to a variety of future serious health issues, including asbestosis, mesothelioma or lung cancer. The latency period between exposure and diagnosis of mesothelioma ranges from 20-50 years. It is diagnosed in an estimated 3,000 people in the U.S. annually.
The study showed aspirin’s ability to inhibit the High-Mobility Group Box 1 (HMGB1) molecule that promotes mesothelioma growth.
“For later stage disease, aspirin isn’t going to do much by itself. But in the very earliest stage of disease, and possibly in prevention, we believe it will have an effect,” Yang said. “We have talked to families already about this. Taking aspirin might be a good idea.”
Aspirin is a common, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, typically used to relieve mild pains of many causes, including headaches, muscle aches and arthritis. A daily aspirin also is recommended to prevent future strokes and heart attacks by thinning the blood.
Mesothelioma in the earliest stages when aspirin could have an effect is rarely diagnosed because there are few symptoms to discover it. Precautionary, daily aspirin for high-risk patients might be its most effective use.
The HMGB1 molecule has been the target for other cancer therapies, including those for prostate, colon and pancreatic cancers, but the anti-tumor activity of aspirin has been poorly understood.
An earlier study cited by the University of Hawaii research team showed a 30 percent reduction in the risk of contracting
mesothelioma among those patients taking aspirin.
In the Hawaiian cancer center’s mouse models, the median survival time with mesothelioma for the control group was 76.5 days. It was 96 days for the group receiving aspirin and 142 days with BoxA, an experimental drug that mimics the anti-tumor properties of aspirin without some of the side effects.
“We hope to move this forward with more study, to provide a better analysis,” Yang said. “For now, anyone in the high-risk group, the aspirin might be the thing to do.”