Aspirin provides many health benefits, including its ability to reduce inflammation. A group of researchers are hoping this benefit can be used to help improve treatment for triple negative breast cancer patients.
An upcoming trial in the United Kingdom is pairing aspirin with the immunotherapy drug avelumab to see if the combination will help increase the success of immunotherapy for triple negative breast cancer (TNBC). The trial will be led by Dr. Anne Armstrong from The Christie NHS Foundation Trust in Manchester. It’s being funded by the Breast Cancer Now Catalyst Programme, which works to accelerate research about the disease.
Dr. Simon Vincent, Director of Research, Support and Influencing at Breast Cancer Now, says, “The 8,000 women diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer in the UK each year face the frightening reality of limited treatment options – we urgently need to address this.
“Research has already suggested aspirin could improve outcomes for many cancer patients and we hope that Dr. Armstrong’s trial will show the same to be true for patients with triple negative breast cancer, so that we can prevent more lives being lost to this devastating disease.”
The goal of the trial is to open up more successful treatment opportunities for TNBC patients, who don’t have as many options as those with other forms of the disease. This is due to TNBC lacking estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors, and excess human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 protein, which are present in other forms of the disease. Treatments have been easier to develop when these receptors are involved and can be targeted, which puts those with TNBC at a disadvantage.
That’s where aspirin will hopefully come into play. Researchers say that immunotherapies currently used for TNBC do help some patients, but not all. However, mice studies have shown immunotherapy drugs control tumors better when they’re taken alongside aspirin. In addition, a recent analysis of prior studies by Cardiff University found that taking aspirin is linked with lower cancer mortality.
Dr. Armstrong says, “Anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin could hold the key to increasing the effectiveness of immunotherapy when used at the same time.
“Trialing the use of a drug like aspirin is exciting because it is so widely available and inexpensive to produce. We hope our trial will show that, when combined with immunotherapy, aspirin can enhance its effects and may ultimately provide a safe new way to treat breast cancer.”
Patients like Beth Bramall are hopeful that there will be good results. The Hampshire resident was diagnosed with TNBC at the age of 42 and has struggled with the treatments, which can be rough.
Bramall says, “Nothing prepares you for being diagnosed with cancer, but the narrative on triple negative breast cancer is so scary and provides little hope. It can spread undetected on scans and sadly several of the friends I’ve made over the past 18 months have had recurrences and passed away from this disease.
“There’s no easy cancer, but triple negative is particularly grueling, with few treatment options and a long and debilitating treatment plan – it floored me with side effects of hair loss, nausea, joint and muscle pain, diarrhoea and constipation, burning palms and feet, migraines, night sweats and fatigue like I’ve never known before.”
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She says she’s lucky that she’s had a pathological complete response to treatment but still has more ahead. She’s excited to see what new treatment avenues this research will bring about.
If the trial is successful, researchers hope it can also provide new options for metastatic TNBC patients. A trial for them would be the next step.