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Ibuprofen, naproxen can reduce chance of breast cancer by 40 percent in high-risk women

A new study shows promising results for women at high risk of breast cancer. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic have found that the pain relievers Ibuprofen or naproxen can reduce the risk of getting the disease.

Patients who take one or the other anti-inflammatory drug on a regular basis could cut their risk of getting breast cancer by as much as 40 percent. Mayo Clinic researchers presented their findings at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium this weekend.

“We found that women who reported using ibuprofen or naproxen had an approximately 40% reduction in breast cancer risk, while women who reported using aspirin had no reduction in breast cancer risk,” says Amy Degnim, M.D., a breast surgical oncologist at Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.

About one million women are diagnosed with benign breast disease annually in the U.S. This increases their risk of developing breast cancer.

Researchers used this information to survey women who had undergone a benign breast biopsy at Mayo Clinic between 1992 and 2001. They then asked them to report which types of (anti-inflammatory) medication they had used and for how long. Researchers then obtained information on how many of the women developed breast cancer after their initial benign biopsy.

Dr. Degnim says their findings suggest that women who have had a benign breast biopsy may benefit from medications such as ibuprofen or naproxen. The results were not determined to be beneficial when it came to using aspirin in terms of reducing later breast cancer risk. 

She cautions, however, that the Mayo Clinic study was not a clinical trial. She says she does not recommend that all women take these medications to reduce their breast cancer risk. 

“Our results support the need for a clinical trial to further investigate the risks and benefits of taking these medications to lower breast cancer risk,” Dr. Degnim said.

The study did not test healthy people, so those who are not at high risk of breast cancer are not advised to take anti-inflammatory medications for a prolonged period without consulting a doctor.

Doctors at the San Antonio Symposium also reported good results from tests of another experimental drug in women with an aggressive form of breast cancer. The forms of breast cancer had spread and were resistant to many previous treatments.

Dr. Ian Krop of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston led a study of 253 women to test a drug called T-DXd. It was given as an infusion every three weeks. (The women had previously tried on average six previous treatments.) When given the optimal dose, 61 percent of the women saw their tumors shrink at least 30 percent. Six percent of the women showed no signs of cancer in at least two followup scans.

But the drug did cause significant side effects. About 60 percent of women showed low blood counts, fatigue, nausea, anemia or fatigue. The side effects were so significant in some women that about 15 percent stopped treatment because of them. The most serious side effects also included the development of lung inflammation.  Four patients reportedly died because of this. 

But because the types of cancers the experimental drug is targeting are generally fatal, Krop says it “is still beneficial for most patients.”

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