Taking common and cheap painkillers such as aspirin and ibuprofen can triple the survival chances of patients with head and neck cancer.
PIK3CA is the most commonly altered oncogene in head and neck cancers, with 34 percent of all tumors carrying mutations that activate the PIK3CA gene. In head and neck cancers linked to the human papillomavirus (HPV), PIK3CA is mutated in over half of tumors.
In a new study published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine on Jan. 25, Jennifer Grandis, from the University of California San Francisco, and colleagues involved 266 patients with head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) whose tumors were surgically removed.
The researchers found that in cancer patients who has PIK3CA, regular use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, such as aspirin and ibuprofen, for at least six months improved the overall five-year survival rate from 25 to 78 percent.
Patients whose gene had not been altered in the tumor, however, did not see effect from taking the painkillers.
NSAIDs are a class of drugs that reduce pain and inflammation. Aspirin and ibuprofen are an example of NSAIDs. Other popular painkillers, such as paracetamol, works by a different process and is not classified as NSAID.
The researchers think NSAIDs possibly block tumor growth by reducing the production of the inflammation molecule prostaglandin E2.
Head And Neck Cancers
According to the American Cancer Society, about 65,000 people in the United States develop head and neck cancer each year. The disease can affect the young but most patients are over 50 years old when diagnosed. Risk factors include alcohol use, HPV infection, and smoking.
The five year survival rate is only about 45 percent.
The findings of the new study suggest the potentials of NSAID therapy in treating cancer patients with mutated PIK3CA, albeit further study is still needed to corroborate the results.
"These findings uncover a biologically plausible rationale to implement NSAID therapy in PIK3CA-altered HNSCC," the researchers wrote in their study.