PhotoFor those of us who have the occasional headache, aspirin can be a real live-saver; the latter part of that statement could be more accurate than you think, though. Researchers from the University of Hawaii Cancer Center have found that aspirin has the ability to deter the growth of mesothelioma, an asbestos-based cancer that claims thousands of lives every year.

Malignant mesothelioma is a very aggressive form of cancer that can be contracted if a person is exposed to asbestos and asbestos-like fibers such as erionite. These fibers often become stuck in different organ linings of the body and cause the cells around them to die due to inflammation to the area. If this is not treated promptly, mesothelioma develops and is often fatal.

Inhibiting cancer growth

Researchers have found that aspirin can help avoid this process by inhibiting the inflammation that occurs before mesothelioma fully forms. In particular, it blocks the inflammatory effects of a certain molecule named “High-Mobility Group Box 1” (HMGB1). Scientists from the University of Hawaii tested how effective aspirin was at blocking this molecule by testing it in mice.

“HMGB1 is an inflammatory molecule that plays a critical role in the initiation and progression of malignant mesothelioma. Inhibiting HMGB1 dramatically reduced malignant mesothelioma growth in mice and significantly improved survival of treated animals," said Dr. Haining Yang, who is an associate professor in the Thoracic Oncology Program at the UH Cancer Center.

Many professions, such as construction workers, fireman, or industrial workers, have a high risk of being exposed to asbestos in their everyday lives. Scientists believe that if these individuals that are at a high risk of asbestos exposure were to take aspirin regularly, then there would be a reduced risk of mesothelioma forming in their bodies. Of course, proper safety precautions must be taken to avoid asbestos exposure. Aspirin would simply act as another safety mechanism.

Mesothelioma currently claims nearly 3,200 lives every year in the U.S. By figuring out precisely how aspirin blocks HMGB1, researchers hope that they may be able to develop a way to fight this deadly disease, and other cancers as well. The full study has been published in Cell Death and Disease. 

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