Study shows why aspirin and fiber prevent colon cancer

April 16, 2003 in Cancer Prevention, Gastrointestinal Health, Nutrition Topics in the News

Study shows why aspirin and fiber prevent colon cancer

Painkillers such as aspirin and ibuprofen may help prevent colon cancer by preventing tumor cells from becoming immortal, and eating fiber may work in a similar way, U.S. scientists say.

Studies have shown that people who regularly take aspirin and other related drugs known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs have a lower risk of cancer. So do people who eat a high-fiber diet. But the mechanisms remain unclear.

In one study that may help explain why, scientists from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School in Boston noted that colon cancer cells have abnormally high levels of an immune system protein called interleukin-6 or IL-6. The team treated colon cancer cells in the laboratory with NSAIDs such as ibuprofen, aspirin and sulindac. They also tested butyrate, a compound produced when the body breaks down dietary fiber.

They found that IL-6 in turn activates another protein called STAT1, which shuts down a process called cell suicide. Cells are programmed to self-destruct at a certain age or when they become damaged, but STAT1 interferes with this process. The cells become immortal, starting the out-of-control proliferation that results in a tumor.

The painkillers stop IL-6 from activating STAT1, the team found. Butyrate also blocks IL-6, but through a different mechanism, they found. The next step is to find more direct ways to block the STAT1 protein in patients who have already developed cancer.

In a second study a team at Ohio State University said they found that women who took the painkillers regularly had a lower risk of breast cancer.

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