Aspirin blocks the production of PGE2 / REX Features

The pain killer could block the production of molecules which hide cancer cells from the body's immune system

The latest therapies that fight cancer could work better when combined with aspirin, research has suggested.

Scientists from the Francis Crick Institute in London say the anti-inflammatory pain killer suppresses a cancer molecule that allows tumours to evade the body’s immune defences.

Laboratory tests have shown that skin, breast and bowel cancer cells often generate large amounts of this molecule, called prostaglandin E2 (PGE2).

But Aspirin is one of a family of drugs that sends messages to the brain to block production of PGE2 and this means cancer cells can be attacked by the body’s natural defences.

Experimenting on mice, the team found that the combination of the drug and the latest immunotherapy techniques significantly slowed the growth of bowel and skin cancers.


Professor Caetano Reis e Sousa, who led the team, said: "We've added to the growing evidence that some cancers produce PGE2 as a way of escaping the immune system.

"If you can take away cancer cells' ability to make PGE2 you effectively lift this protective barrier and unleash the full power of the immune system.

"Giving patients aspirin at the same time as immunotherapy could potentially make a huge difference to the benefit they get from treatment."

He stressed that it was still only early days but said that the treatment had the potential to deliver "life-changing results for patients".

Professor Peter Johnson, chief clinician at Cancer Research UK, which funded the study published in the journal Cell, said: "PGE2 acts on many different cells in our body, and this study suggests that one of these actions is to tell our immune system to ignore cancer cells.

"This research was carried out in mice so there is still some way to go before we will see patients being given Cox inhibitors as part of their treatment.

"But it's an exciting finding that could offer a simple way to dramatically improve the response to treatment in a range of cancers."

Additional reporting by PA