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Drug you probably already have could help cancer patients live longer

A drug you'll find in most any medicine cabinet may prolong the lives of certain cancer patients. Doctors at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center sat down with Channel 11 to explain how aspirin could lead to longer lives for the nearly 65,000 people who will be diagnosed with head and neck cancer this year.

Researchers saw how aspirin benefited colorectal cancer patients and started looking through the UPMC treatment database. They soon found something aspirin users had in common.

"Those individuals who took aspirin or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatories had a much better survival (chance)," said Dr. Robert Ferris of UPMC Hillman.

Ferris says it has to do with the genes these cancers activate.


"The cancer likes to activate certain pathways that promote their ability to grow and divide and spread around the body," he said.

Head and neck cancers activate the same pathway as colorectal cancers. Ferris says aspirin and ibuprofen block that pathway and help prevent the cancer from spreading.

"It allows our body to catch up and eliminate the cancer and prolong our survival," he said.

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Ferris' team is now looking to actively study aspirin's effect on certain cancers. He said they'll need the support of the National Cancer Institute to open clinical trials. Ferris thinks major drug companies likely won't back them because these drugs are so inexpensive.

"There could be a cheap, simple, safe drug on the shelf that we could then repurpose once we are able to figure out biology and then look at large populations of patients," he said.

Ferris says patients should talk to their doctor about their cancer genes to find out if they could benefit from taking aspirin or ibuprofen.