Mayo explores simple approach to cancer prevention

By Jeff Hansel

Mayo Clinic researchers believe simple drugs could prevent cancers, and they will study the concept in Rochester.

Researchers say they will test commonly prescribed drugs against colon, lung and esophageal cancer to see if observations are correct that the drugs make cancer less likely to occur later.

Doctors will prescribe for patients at high risk of cancer recurrence drugs such as Nexium, aspirin and other anti-inflammatories that are normally taken for conditions such as arthritis.


Preventing cancer

Studying preventive medicine is part of Mayo’s cancer prevention program.

"It’s an emerging field of science. I think people have started to take a closer look at the cancer process, and the cancer process goes all the way from a normal cell to an invasive tumor," said Dr. Paul Limburg, a Mayo gastroenterologist.

If precancerous colon polyps, for example, can be caught before they become tumors, he said, colon cancer could be prevented. Doctors have noticed that patients who take anti-inflammatory drugs for conditions like arthritis tend to have fewer cancers.

"We think that drugs that are as safe as aspirin may prevent cancer," Limburg said. Diet, exercise and tobacco exposure could also be factors.

But proof of an anti-inflammatory drug effect is needed. That’s where the Mayo studies come in.

Conditions under scrutiny

Patients will get one of three nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for colon-cancer prevention.


"While searching for the cure is important, even more so is finding effective ways to prevent cancer," Limburg said in a prepared statement. Limburg is lead researcher for the colon cancer portion of the study. "We have observed that some of the same biological processes that cause inflammation may also be involved in developing cancer, so the next step was to see if drugs that prevent inflammation also serve to lessen the risk of cancer."

Limburg said researchers need evidence to show what works. Researchers in other Mayo labs will also look at Nexium with aspirin, and the effect on Barret’s esophagus, a condition with a poor prognosis.

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