Aspirin is commonly used as a drug to relieve pain and inflammation, and has also shown promise in the fight against various types of inflammation-related cancers. Research clinicians also believe that aspirin can play a role in the continuing search for more effective ways to slow down the spread of mesothelioma cancer.

Breathed in asbestos fibre particles can permanently embed in the tissues of the lung linings (known as the pleural cavity), causing an inflammatory response in a specific group of molecule cells identified by scientists.

Inflammation-fighting compound

In recent laboratory studies, mice previously injected with mesothelioma were given aspirin along with another inflammation-fighting compound to inhibit the molecule group. The concentrations, which were comparable to specially prepared doses of aspirin medication taken by humans showed significant results in both reducing malignant mesothelioma growth and improving survival rates of the infected mice.

The use of the specific molecule cell inhibitor along with the aspirin, not only aimed to enhance the anti-inflammatory properties, but also to act as protection against the side effects that high doses of aspirin are known to have upon the stomach and intestines.

Increased risk from regular aspirin use

Both aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications are also known to reduce the clotting action of blood platelets. However, regular use can increase the risk of bleeding and heart attacks, and some medications can adversely interact with the aspirin with an increased risk of bleeding. Daily use of aspirin can increase the risk of developing a stomach ulcer.

The researchers are hopeful that the positive outcomes from the latest study show a further advance in asbestosis treatments to fight mesothelioma, one of the most treatment-resistant cancers, which still has no permanent cure.

Limited capability

Previous research work using aspirin had only indicated a limited capability. The drug was unable to prevent mesothelioma from developing nor extend patient survival rates, although there was evidence of temporarily slowing down the latency period of the disease.

The latency period is defined as the length of time between an initial exposure and the first evidence of disease. Mesothelioma is known to possess an unusually long latency period of between 15 to 50 years before asbestosis symptoms appear. Early detection of the disease has always been difficult and in many cases, the cancer tumours have spread to an advanced stage when the condition is diagnosed. Once the tumours have spread to adjacent tissues or distant organs, life expectancy is around 4 to 18 months, at best.

Temporary slow down

In earlier tests, both laboratory mice infected with mesothelioma and humans known to have been occupationally exposed to asbestos were given combined dosages of anti-inflammation pain-relievers and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin.

The results showed a reduction in inflammation and a “small but significant” impact on the time it took for mesothelioma to develop (latency period). Researchers were disappointed that the rate of disease development was not altered and the survival rate could not be extended.

Less than one per cent of all cancers are diagnosed as mesothelioma and despite a fall in mortality rates for many other types of cancers, such as cervical, testicular, thyroid and malignant melanomas, mesothelioma still accounts for around 2,300 deaths each year in the UK.