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Aspirin may interact with cells' DNA modifications to alter breast cancer outcomes

August 12, 2019

New findings suggest that women with specific DNA characteristics in certain areas of the genome may live longer if they take aspirin before they are diagnosed with breast cancer. Published early online in CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society, the findings point to the need for studies on the potential of aspirin to prevent or treat breast cancer in some individuals.

It is often unclear why some patients benefit from a particular therapy while others do not. In some cases, gene sequences play a role, but in other cases, chemical modifications to DNA may be important. The latter are termed epigenetic changes, and they include a process called DNA methylation.

Tengteng Wang, PhD, MSPH, and her mentor Marilie Gammon, PhD, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, wondered whether DNA methylation may influence the effects of aspirin in patients with breast cancer. The team examined DNA methylation in breast tumor tissues--including at DNA sites that control the expression of 13 breast cancer-related genes--and also in cells circulating in patients' blood. The study is the first to examine the effect of DNA methylation on the association between aspirin use and mortality in women with breast cancer.

In the study of 1266 women who were diagnosed with breast cancer during the 1996-1997 period, 476 died from any cause and 202 died specifically from breast cancer by the end of 2014. In women who used aspirin, the risk of dying from any cause and the risk of dying from breast cancer was lower among those whose DNA was not methylated in the region that controlled expression of the breast cancer-related BRCA1 gene. Other methylation patterns related to aspirin use and mortality were also observed.

The authors noted that the findings could help identify individuals who may benefit from aspirin after a breast cancer diagnosis due to their cells' DNA methylation profile. Future research should consider a more comprehensive DNA methylation profile in order to better characterize women who are at risk.

"Consideration of DNA methylation profiles as potential modifiers of the aspirin-mortality association may provide new insights on the underlying biological mechanisms on aspirin use in relation to mortality after breast cancer diagnosis," said Dr. Wang. "Our findings, if confirmed, may also impact clinical decision-making by identifying a subgroup of patients, using epigenetic markers, for whom pre-diagnosis aspirin use impacts subsequent mortality, and may help refine risk reduction strategies to improve survival among women with breast cancer," added Dr. Gammon.

In an accompanying editorial, Kristen Malecki, PhD, MPH, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, noted that the findings support the importance of research examining interactions between epigenetics and low-cost therapies such as aspirin. According to Dr. Malecki, "The study by Wang et al. shows that beyond gene-environment interactions, epigenetic and environment interactions also exist, and suggest that DNA methylation could in the future help to support the identification of individuals for whom treatment may or may not be successful.
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Additional Information

NOTE: The information contained in this release is protected by copyright. Please include journal attribution in all coverage. A free abstract of this article will be available via the Cancer News Room upon online publication. For more information or to obtain a PDF of any study, please contact:

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Full Citations:

"Pre-diagnosis aspirin use, DNA methylation, and mortality after breast cancer: a population-based study." Tengteng Wang, Lauren E. McCullough, Alexandra J. White, Patrick T. Bradshaw, Xinran Xu, Yoon Hee Cho, Mary Beth Terry, Susan L. Teitelbaum, Alfred I. Neugut, Regina M. Santella, Jia Chen, and Marilie D. Gammon. CANCER; Published Online: August 12, 2019 (DOI: 10.1002/cncr.32364).

URL Upon Publication: http://doi.wiley.com/10.1002/cncr.32364

"Epigenetics and differential effects of aspirin on breast cancer survival: opportunities for understanding human susceptibility and risk." Kristen Malecki. CANCER; Published Online: August 12, 2019 (DOI: 10.1002/cncr.32365).

URL Upon Publication: http://doi.wiley.com/10.1002/cncr.32365

Author Contact: Jennie Saia, MA, Public Communications Specialist at the UNC Gillings School of Public Health, at jsaia@unc.edu or +1 919-966-4555.

About the Journal

CANCER is a peer-reviewed publication of the American Cancer Society integrating scientific information from worldwide sources for all oncologic specialties. The objective of CANCER is to provide an interdisciplinary forum for the exchange of information among oncologic disciplines concerned with the etiology, course, and treatment of human cancer. CANCER is published on behalf of the American Cancer Society by Wiley and can be accessed online.

Follow us on Twitter @JournalCancer

About Wiley

Wiley drives the world forward with research and education. Through publishing, platforms and services, we help students, researchers, universities, and corporations to achieve their goals in an ever-changing world. For more than 200 years, we have delivered consistent performance to all of our stakeholders. The Company's website can be accessed at http://www.wiley.com

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