A treatment as cheap and simple as aspirin can make some patients with colorectal cancer live longer, but it doesn't work for everyone. Researchers from the U.S. and Japan have pinpointed a mutation in a single gene that could find the patients that this could help.
The international team looked at information on 964 people with colorectal cancer from the Nurses' Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, two large and long-term studies involving tens of thousands of people. They found a connection between a mutation in the PIK3CA gene and longer survival after regular aspirin use.
In people with the mutation (about 20% of people with colorectal cancer), taking aspirin makes a big difference. Of this group of people, 97% taking aspirin were alive after 5 years, compared with 74% who did not take aspirin. In the people without the mutation, taking aspirin made no difference. The results were published in The New England Journal of Medicine.
"Our results suggest that aspirin can be particularly effective in prolonging survival among patients whose colorectal cancer tests positive for a mutation in PIK3CA," said Shuji Ogino of Dana-Farber, Brigham and Women's Hospital, and the Harvard School of Public Health.
As Ogino said in a statement, this is the first genetic marker for this use of aspirin, and the results will have to be validated. If they can be replicated, this biomarker could help doctors determine which colorectal cancers are likely to respond to a particular therapy.