Ibuprofen could reduce the chances of getting breast cancer for women at high risk of the disease, according to a study.
Researchers found that regularly taking the anti-inflammatory drugs ibuprofen or naproxen could slash breast cancer risk by 40 per cent.
This was among women who had had a cancer scare which later turned out to be something else.
But aspirin, which falls into the same category, did not have the same positive effect, Mayo Clinic researchers found.
The study did not test healthy people and people are not advised to take those types of medicines for a long time unless a doctor tells them to.
A study following 3,000 in the US who had been diagnosed with benign breast disease found they were less likely to develop breast cancer if they regularly took anti-inflammatory painkillers (stock image)
‘Several studies have evaluated whether the use of anti-inflammatory medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen affect a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer,’ said Dr Amy Degnim, a breast cancer surgeon at the clinic in Minnesota.
‘But little is known about how use of these drugs might affect their risk after a benign breast biopsy.’
Dr Degnim and her colleagues surveyed 3,089 women who had had a breast cancer scare between 1992 and 2001.
All those in the study had been given a biopsy – in which a surgeon removes a small piece of flesh to test it – because of a problem with their breast.
WHAT ARE THE PROS AND CONS OF ANTI-INFLAMMATORY MEDICINES?
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs) are drugs such as ibuprofen, high-dose aspirin, naproxen and diclofenac.
They are used to reduce swelling and kill pain in patients with a wide range of symptoms, such as headaches, muscle injuries, painful periods, flu and arthritis.
NSAIDs are very widely used and some (ibuprofen) are available over the counter. But this doesn’t mean they’re 100 per cent safe.
Minor side effects of taking the drugs can include indigestion and stomach aches, headaches, sleepiness and dizziness.
More serious problems which can occur, usually if someone uses them for a long time, include stomach ulcers, bleeding in the stomach or intestine, liver or kidney problems, or even heart attacks, heart failure or stroke.
Medics aren’t certain why the drugs can cause dangerous effects, but they are known to be able to increase blood pressure, which may have an effect.
NSAIDs may also trigger negative reactions if taken with other medicines such as blood pressure lowering drugs, blood-thinners or antidepressants.
Research has suggested NSAIDs may have protective effects against bowel, rectal and breast cancer because they can stop or slow down enzymes which activate hormones or chemicals that are responsible for cell growth and death.
Sources: NHS and Mayo Clinic
Their illnesses later turned out to be benign (not cancerous) but they were deemed at a higher risk of getting cancer in the future.
Some one million women in the US are diagnosed with a benign breast disease every year, along with tens of thousands of women in the UK.
These can include cysts, non-cancerous tumours, wart-like growths, infections or fat build-up.
During the study, 313 of the women developed breast cancer.
The team found that women who had taken NSAIDs at any point during their life had 61 per cent of the cancer risk of those who had never taken them.
‘We found that women who reported using ibuprofen or naproxen had an approximately 40 per cent reduction in breast cancer risk,’ said Dr Degnim.
‘While women who reported using aspirin had no reduction in breast cancer risk.
‘Women who used the drugs more frequently on a regular basis also had greater protection from breast cancer.’
The researchers’ early work did not explain why the medicines may reduce risk, but past work has suggested they can keep cell reproduction and deaths under control.
A study in the Breast Cancer Research journal in April this year said anti-inflammatories may slow the activity of an enzyme (cyclooxygenase) which is known to be overactive in cancer cells.
They may also protect against breast cancer by limiting the body’s ability to convert testosterone into oestrogen, which is known to fuel breast tumours, Columbia University scientists said.
Regular use of anti-inflammatory drugs is not recommended for healthy people.
And the Mayo Clinic researchers said women should not start taking them to try and reduce their risk of cancer.
They are known to increase the risk of heart attacks or strokes, according to the US National Institutes of Health.
And they may also contribute to ulcers, bleeding or holes developing in the stomach or intestines. Aspirin carries fewer risks than ibuprofen.
The medicines are safe to use for most people but patients should consult their doctor if they plan to take them for a long time.
On the flipside, studies have suggested anti-inflammatories may reduce the risk of developing bowel cancer or cancer in the rectum.
Dr Degnim and her team presented their research at the 2019 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium in Texas.