Could Aspirin Benefit Head and Neck Cancer Patients

A new study out of the University of California San Francisco has some good news for cancer patients. Apparently a simple regimen of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, for just six months, can improve survival rates for those with head and neck cancers.  The study suggests that using these drugs—for at least six months, consistently—could boost the five-year cancer survival rate 25 to 78 percent.

But there is a catch, so to speak.  The study found that the only patients to benefit from this regimen had cancer but also carried a mutated PIK3CA gene.   

Accordingly to UCSF professor Jennifer R. Grandis “Our results suggest that the use of NSAIDs could significantly improve outcomes for not only head and neck cancer patients, but also patients with other cancers that contained the PIK3CA mutation,” 

It is very important to note that while these patients did find a benefit by taking NSAIDs, those who do not have the mutation did benefit at all.  Still, PIKC3A is the most common gene whose mutations were found to be associated with head and neck cancers.  Indeed, roughly 34 percent of these patients carry this particular mutation.

At least 12,000 people are diagnosed with head and neck cancers in the UK every year.  Of these diagnoses, approximately one-third die from the disease every year.  In the US, head and neck cancers account for only about 4 percent of all cancer cases. 

It should also be noted that risk factors for developing head and neck cancers include alcohol and tobacco use as well as HPV infection.

Dr. Grandis continues, “Inconsistencies in the type, timing, and dosages of NSAIDs taken by patients in this study limit our ability to make specific therapeutic recommendations.”

She concludes: “But the magnitude of the apparent advantage, especially given the market morbidity and mortality of this disease, warrants further study in a prospective, randomized clinical trial.”

Imperial College London professor of cancer medicine and medical oncology Justin Stebbing also affirms that inflammation is something we definitely know is associated with higher cancer risk.  Current studies in other types of cancer tumors (including breast and colon cancers) have demonstrated that basic anti-inflammatories may be helpful among those patients with these mutation-related cancer types.