NEW YORK -- Aspirin, one of the world's oldest and cheapest drugs, has shown remarkable promise in treating colon cancer in people with mutations in a gene that's thought to play a role in the disease.
Among patients with the mutations, those who regularly took aspirin lived longer than those who didn't, a major study found. Five years after their cancers were diagnosed, 97 percent of aspirin users were still alive versus 74 percent of those not taking it.
Aspirin seemed to make no difference in patients who did not have the mutations.
This sort of study cannot prove that aspirin caused better survival, and doctors say more research must confirm the findings before aspirin can be recommended more widely. The study wasn't designed to test aspirin; patients were already taking it for various reasons.
Still, the results suggest that this simple medicine might be the cheapest gene-targeting therapy ever found for cancer. About one-sixth of all colon cancer patients have the mutated gene.
"It's exciting to think that something that's already in the medicine cabinet may really have an important effect" beyond relieving pain and helping to prevent heart attacks, said Massachusetts General Hospital's Andrew Chan. Dr. Chan and others from Harvard Medical School led the study, which appears in today's New England Journal of Medicine.