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Regular use of aspirin-like compounds has been found to halve the risk for breast cancer recurrence and death.

The “take an aspirin” part of the doctor’s maxim stays intact, but there may not be a need to call in the morning, at least not for women interested in the potential benefits found in research from Brigham and Women’s Hospital. According to data gathered from more than 4,000 women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer, those who took aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) had a significantly reduced risk of experiencing a recurrence or dying from the disease. The study, published in the February 16, 2010, issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology, also suggested that the protective effect was associated with the number of days per week that the women took the agents, with more days equaling lower risk.

RELIEF CAPSULE: Michelle Holmes has found that over-the-counter analgesics offer hope to women with breast cancer.<br/><br/>Photo by Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard News Office

The study used data collected from nurses who had enrolled in the hospital’s landmark Nurses’ Health Study and had been diagnosed with Stage I, II, or III breast cancer between 1976 and 2002. Researchers analyzed reports from these women about their frequency of aspirin use one year after their first diagnosis of breast cancer through June 2006 or their death, then adjusted for stage of cancer, menopausal status, body mass index, and cancer treatments. The result: a 50-percent-lower chance of death and of recurrence among those who took the drug. Women in the study reported taking the agents between one and seven days each week, with a lowered risk associated with two to five days of aspirin or six to seven days of other NSAIDs.

“More than 2 million women in the United States live with breast cancer, and their risk of death from this disease remains elevated even up to 15 years after diagnosis,” says Michelle Holmes ’81, an HMS associate professor of medicine at the Channing Laboratory at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and lead author on the study. “More research is needed to determine how aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs may work to prohibit the recurrence of this disease.”

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