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    "When many cures are offered for a disease, it means the disease is not curable" -Anton Chekhov

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    Wednesday, May 26, 2004

    An Aspirin a Day Keeps the Doctor Away: News reports say that aspirin may prevent breast cancer:

    A study involving 2,884 women found that those who took aspirin on a regular basis were about 28 percent less likely to develop breast cancer than those who never used the popular painkiller.

    The findings are the latest in a series of studies that have indicated aspirin may do far more than relieve headaches, backaches and fevers. In addition to reducing the risk for heart attacks, several studies indicate it may cut the risk for various cancers, including breast cancer.

    Emphasis on the word "may." As in if you take an aspirin a day and your twin sister doesn't, don't be surprised if you get breast cancer while she remains cancer free. The study was a retrospective one, meaning the researchers gathered women who had already been diagnosed with cancer then gathered other women who did not have cancer but who matched the cancer group demographically. Then, because they were interested in whether or not anti-inflammatories might have a role in preventing cancer, they asked each group about their use of such anit-inflammatories as aspirin and ibuprofen (Motrin). (They also asked about Tylenol use, but Tylenol isn't an anti-inflammatory. Interestingly, there was no difference in Tylenol use between the two groups.) What they found was that more women, by a very small margin, who did not have breast cancer used aspirin regularly or semi-regularly than women who had breast cancer.

    The data show that the difference in aspirin use between the two groups was only three percentage points. Of women who had breast cancer, 21% had taken aspirin at least once a week for six months or longer. Of women without breast cancer, 25% had taken aspirin once a week for six months or longer.

    Even if broken down into frequency and duration of aspirin use, the numbers are still underwhelming. Aspirin use varies only by two to three percentage points at the most. Among healthy women 7.5% took aspirin daily for five years or more, compared to 6.5% of women with breast cancer.

    The numbers don't prove that aspirin prevents breast cancer. They only show an association (and a tenuous one at that) between aspirin use and the breast cancer-free state.

    Now, this is certainly a finding that researchers would find stimulating. Their job is to look for trends that can turn their minds toward new avenues of exploration. A biochemist may look at this data and decide to explore the relationship between the chemistry of inflammation and the genesis of breast cancer. But when it comes to day to day medical therapy, it falls far short of proving aspirin as a preventative for breast cancer.

    posted by Sydney on 5/26/2004 08:23:00 AM 0 comments


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