Rethinking Cancer Prevention

  Credit: Marsha Miller

Credit: Marsha Miller

Three of every four postmenopausal women in the United States are either overweight or obese. The extra weight gives these women a 30-60 percent greater chance of developing breast cancer—as well as a poorer prognosis—compared to leaner woman. 

But there is hope. New research coming out of Linda deGraffenried’s lab discovered a remarkably simple yet beneficial treatment. If patients receive a daily dose of either baby aspirin or fish oil, the inflammation in their bodies—-the primordial soup in which many tumors bloom—can be reduced. 

“If something as easy as popping a baby aspirin or swallowing a spoonful of fish oil can increase survival without increasing toxicity, it will be a major move forward,” says deGraffenried, an associate professor in Nutritional Sciences. “These anti-inflammatories decrease inflammation and also seem to target a subset of immune cells that help cancer.” 

In 2014, deGraffenried and her colleagues found that aspirin and other anti-inflammatories helped prevent the reoccurrence of breast cancer in overweight and obese patients. They realized that breast cancer is different in obese women and that the “disease-promoting effects of obesity” needed tinkering.

  Credit: Marsha Miller

Credit: Marsha Miller

In a new study, deGraffenried tweaked the regimen of overweight breast cancer patients with daily aspirin or fish oil. Those taking aspirin showed an 81 percent decrease in inflammation, and those taking fish oil showed a 55 percent decrease. 

“Baby aspirin and fish oil really seem to help our own bodies fight cancer,” says deGraffenried, who is currently preparing a larger clinical trial. “Hopefully, we can get an improvement in survival in this growing population of patients.”