The humble painkiller aspirin could be the secret weapon to beat cancer after scientists discovered it can stop tumours spreading.
The revolutionary finding solves the mystery of how the over-the- counter wonder drug works to halt the disease in its tracks.
The breakthrough by experts in Australia will now pave the way for new treatments which may even help cure the disease for good.
Lead researcher Dr Tara Karnezis, of the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, said: “I hope this information is one bit of the puzzle that will lead to a cure for cancer.”
Aspirin, a non-steroid anti-inflammatory drug – or NSAID – has long been known to slash the death rates from a range of common cancers including those of the stomach and bowel, oesophagus, pancreas, lungs, prostate, bladder, breast and kidneys.
But the exact way it worked to do this was unknown.
Now the Australian team have discovered that cancer tumours secrete proteins and compounds called growth factors. These attract blood and lymphatic vessels to their vicinity and allow the cancer to flourish and spread.
The growth factors have also been shown to encourage these lymphatic vessels – or “supply lines” – to widen, allowing the spread of cancer.
But Dr Karnezis said NSAID drugs can stop this widening, therefore hindering the spread of the disease. She said: “A group of drugs reverse the widening of the supply line and make it hard for the tumour to spread. At the end of the day that’s what kills people.
“This discovery unlocks a range of potentially powerful new therapies to target this pathway in lymphatic vessels, effectively tightening a tumour’s supply lines and restricting the transport of cancer cells to the rest of the body.”
While cancer specialists may include aspirin in patients’ treatment, this discovery will enable the development of better and more efficient drugs, she said. Associate Professor Steven Stacker, senior author of the study, which is published in the journal Cancer Cell, said: “We’ve known that tumours actively secrete a range of proteins and compounds called growth factors to attract blood and lymphatic vessels from within their immediate vicinity, enabling them to flourish and spread.
“In this research we have discovered that a gene links these growth factors to the prostaglandin cellular pathway – the pathway that can cause inflammation and dilation of vessels throughout the body.
“Basically, the growth factors released by tumours also encourage nearby collecting lymphatic vessels to widen, increasing the capacity for these ‘supply lines’ to act as more effective conduits of cancer spread.”
Dr Karnezis added: “The potential is incredibly exciting, as these new and improved drugs could help contain many solid epithelial tumours, including breast and prostate cancer, which affect large numbers of men and women.”
The research findings also have important implications for cancer care, possibly providing an “early warning system” before the spread of a primary tumour.
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