The regular intake of aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) has been associated with decreased incidence of certain types of cancer particularly those with an inflammatory component. The protective effects of these drugs in colorectal cancer are particularly marked, with a 40-50% reduction in risk. Research in this area has focussed on understanding and optimising these cytoprotective effects. NSAIDs are believed to operate by inhibiting COX-2, an enzyme that appears to be involved in a number of cancer promoting processes. This hypothesis is consistent with the observation that the COX-2 selective inhibitors dramatically decrease tumour formation in human and animal studies. Surprisingly aspirin, which is selective for COX-1 over COX-2, and sulindac, which is an equipotent inhibitor of the COX isoenzymes, appear to have a similar anticancer profile to the COX-2 selective NSAIDs. A number of mechanisms have been proposed to explain the anomalous effects of aspirin. The first of these relates to the unique mode of action of aspirin, which acetylates the COX-2 enzyme and generates the cancer-suppressing 15R-hydroxyeicosatetraenoic acid at the site of a potential tumour. The alternative rationale relates to the metabolism of aspirin to salicylic acid, which has a cyclooxygenase independent anti-inflammatory mechanism, preventing the inflammatory response at the gene transcription level. A new generation of drugs could evolve from approaches to improving the therapeutic index of aspirin or by modifications to known therapies such as sulindac and celecoxib.
Keywords: colorectal cancer, aspirin, salicylic acid, cyclooxygenase, chemoprevention
Rights & PermissionsPrintExport