Regular use of aspirin or ibuprofen could dramatically boost survival from head and neck cancer, research suggests.
The common painkillers were found to increase the chance of survival from 25 percent to 78 percent for patients whose cancer contained a specific altered gene, known as PIK3CA.
Around a third of head and neck cancers carry this mutation, and it is also found in other types of cancer.
Head and neck cancer is newly diagnosed in more than 12,000 people in the UK each year, and 65,000 in the US. It kills just over 4,000 Brits a year and 14,000 American.
There are more than 30 areas within the head and neck where cancer can develop, including the mouth and throat.
Researchers at the University of California San Francisco looked at five-year survival rates for people diagnosed with the disease.
They found that regular use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin and ibuprofen, significantly improved survival for a third or more of patients with head and neck cancer.
They all had the mutated gene. There was no increase in survival for patients whose gene was not altered in their tumor.
Writing in the Journal of Experimental Medicine, the authors said this is the first study to show a 'strong clinical advantage' of regular NSAID use for head and neck cancer patients with mutations in the PIK3CA gene.
Dr Jennifer Grandis, a professor of head and neck surgery, and senior author of the paper, said: 'Our results suggest that the use of NSAIDs could significantly improve outcomes for not only head and neck cancer patients, but also patients with other cancers that contained the PIK3CA mutation.
'The magnitude of the apparent advantage is strong, and could potentially have a positive impact on human health.'
The study included 266 patients from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center whose tumors were surgically removed.
Altogether, 75 tumors (28 percent) in the study had a change in the PIK3CA gene.
Among the patients who regularly used NSAIDs, 93 percent used aspirin at some point, and 73 percent only took aspirin.
Most of the regular users started taking aspirin after being diagnosed with head and neck cancer.
The researchers said the regular use of NSAIDs for at least six months provided 'markedly prolonged' improved survival compared to non-use for patients whose PIK3CA gene was mutated.
They suggest that NSAIDs possibly block tumor growth by reducing the production of an inflammatory molecule called prostaglandin E2.
The authors warned that the finding was preliminary and would need to be replicated in a clinical trial.
Source: Daily Mail