Aspirin and Smoking Impact the Age of Your Genes: Cancer Risk

First Posted: Jul 01, 2014 11:11 AM EDT

Aging genes have long been associated with an increased risk of developing cancer. Now, though, scientists have taken a closer look at what might impact gene aging. Scientists have found that smoking and regular aspirin use influence aging processes of the female genome that are connected to colorectal cancer.

In the 1990s, previous studies showed that regular use of aspirin over long periods decreases cancer risk. In fact, this regular use is said to reduce the risk to develop colorectal cancer by an average of 40 percent. Yet until now, scientists weren't sure exactly how the drug influences the cancer risk.

That's why scientists decided to take a closer look. The researchers examined intestinal tissue samples of 546 healthy women over 50 years of age. They then compared age-specific changes of gene markers, so-called DNA methylations, with the women's lifestyle factors regarding aspirin use, smoking, body mass index and hormonal replacement therapy.

"Each cell's genome resembles a library that is full of bookmarks," said Primo Schar, one of the researchers, in a news release. "But these markers are not very stable and change during the course of age. If, at certain parts of the genome, the change is too drastic, tumors can develop."

In this case, the researchers found that aspirin actually slowed down age-related decay. In contrast, the scientists found that smoking accelerates the aging process and can contribute to an increased risk of cancer.

While aspirin can certainly help, more research needs to be conducted before scientists can recommend taking it on a regular basis. There are potential side effects associated with aspirin, including gastrointenstinal bleeding. That said, the findings do show what mechanisms are behind aspirin's effect on cancer risk. By slowing down age-related decay, it can potentially be used to help reduce risk in the future.

The findings are published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

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