Colon cancer: Could aspirin help slow disease progression?

Evan Walker
Evan Walker TheMediTary.Com |
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  • Colorectal cancer, or colon cancer, is the third most common cancer in the world.
  • As the number of colorectal cancer cases is expected to grow, prevention methods are important.
  • Previous studies show aspirin can help in the prevention of colorectal cancer.
  • Researchers from the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München in Munich, Germany, have found aspirin activates protective genes, helping it inhibit and slow down the progression of colon cancer.

A new study looks at the potential protective effect of as

Colorectal cancer — also known as colon cancer — is the Health Organization" rationale="Highly respected international organization">third most common cancer in the world, with more than 1.9 million new cases occurring in 2020.

Researchers estimate there will be 3.2 million new cases of colorectal cancer in the world by 2040.

For this reason, prevention of colorectal cancer is important. While there are lifestyle modifications — such as a healthy diet and physical activity — that can help prevent colorectal cancer, for some time, researchers have been studying the use of aspirin to help reduce cancer risk.

Now researchers from the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München in Munich, Germany, offer new insights into how aspirin both helps reduce a person’s risk for colon cancer and slows the progression of the disease.

The study was recently published in the journal Cell Death & Disease.

Through prior research, scientists stated they believed the anti-cancer effects of aspirin were moderated through its ability to inhibit the cyclooxygenase (COX) enzyme.

For this study, researchers used both cultured cells and a mouse model.

They found that aspirin starts the production of two tumor-inhibiting microRNA molecules called miR-34a and miR-34b/c.

Aspirin also binds to and activates the AMPK enzyme, which helps regulate cellular metabolism. This, in turn, tells the NRF2 transcription factor — which helps lower oxidative stress and reduce systemic inflammation — to go to the cell nucleus and activate the expression of the miR-34 genes there.

Additionally, aspirin helps stop the oncogene product c-MYC — which plays a vital role in tumor formation and growth — that would normally inhibit NRF2.

Through their study, the researchers showed that miR-34 genes were vital for helping aspirin prevent colon cancer, as aspirin was not able to prevent migration, invasion, and metastasis in miR-34-deficient cancer cells.

“Our results show that the activation of the miR-34 genes by aspirin occurs independently of the p53 signaling pathway,” said Dr. Heiko Hermeking, professor of experimental and molecular pathology at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München in Munich, Germany, and senior author of this study.

“This is important because the gene encoding p53 is the most frequently inactivated tumor suppressor gene in colorectal cancer. In most other cancers, p53 is also inactivated in the majority of cases by mutations or viruses. Aspirin could be used therapeutically in such cases in the future,” Dr. Hermeking explained.

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