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Aspirin and similar drug use linked to lower endometrial cancer risk in overweight women

A study by QIMR Berghofer researchers has found that overweight and obese women who take aspirin at least once a week may reduce their risk of developing endometrial cancer (cancer of the womb).

Women who are overweight or obese are up to five times more likely to develop the cancer than women whose body weight is in the healthy range.

Study author and head of QIMR Berghofer’s Gynaecological Cancers group, Professor Penny Webb, said the analysis of data from more than 23,000 women suggested regular use of aspirin or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen might reduce the risk of endometrial cancer in overweight women.

“Previous studies have linked regular use of aspirin with a reduced risk of diseases such as bowel cancer, but the data for endometrial cancer were conflicting,” Professor Webb said.

“Our research found that overweight and obese women who took aspirin, ibuprofen or other NSAIDs more than once a week had about a 15 per cent lower risk of developing endometrial cancer than overweight women who did not use these medicines.”

Seven Australian women are diagnosed with endometrial cancer every day, and one in five women who develop the disease will die within five years, according to statistics from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

The study found no association with cancer risk for women who were overweight or obese who took a daily dose of aspirin, Professor Webb said.

“That’s probably because most of that group were taking low dose aspirin to prevent heart disease, and it is possible the lower dose was not sufficient to have an effect on cancer risk,” Professor Webb said.

“We think regular use of anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin may reduce the cancer risk in overweight women because obesity is associated with chronic inflammation, which may increase cancer risk.

“Other studies have suggested that women who take aspirin and NSAIDs have lower oestrogen levels and we know oestrogen plays a significant role in the development of endometrial cancer.”

The study found no association between use of the medications and endometrial cancer risk among women with a normal body weight.

It also found no association between use of paracetamol and endometrial cancer risk.

Professor Webb said further research was needed into the role anti-inflammatory drugs might play in preventing endometrial cancer but, if the link was confirmed,  doctors could consider prescribing aspirin or NSAIDs as an option to reduce the risk of the disease among obese women who have not had a hysterectomy.

“It’s important to remember that these medicines can have negative side effects so women should talk to their GP before taking them regularly,” she said.

“Endometrial cancer rates are continuing to rise as obesity rates increase, so we need to examine options for treating and preventing this disease.”

The study examined data from seven cohort and five case–control studies participating in the international Epidemiology of Endometrial Cancer Consortium, including 7120 women with endometrial cancer and 16 069 controls.

The paper has been published in the journal Annals of Oncology.