Can non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) suppress cancer metastasis?

A 2017 meta-analysis reported that NSAIDs are associated with lower risk of distant metastasis in patients with breast, prostate, lung, and colorectal cancer.1

The mechanism accounting for this observation is not fully understood. However, since inflammation has been implicated as a driving force for tumor metastasis 2, blunting the inflammatory microenvironment that surrounds tumors may explain NSAIDs’ reported beneficial effect.

NSAIDs may also have a direct effect on cancer cells. In-vitro studies demonstrate that NSAIDs induce the expression of a protein (p75 neurotrophic receptor, p75NTR) associated with suppression of tumor growth and metastasis in prostate cancer; this protein also suppresses growth of bladder cancer cells.3,4

Ibuprofen and indomethacin are among the commonly available NSAIDS shown to exhibit such anti-tumor effect. Interestingly, non-COX-inhibiting NSAIDS (eg, [R] flurbiprofen, an enantiomer of ibuprofen) may also be effective suggesting that inhibition of cell survival may not be COX-mediated.

Although these findings and observations are promising, randomized-controlled trials are clearly needed to better define the role of NSAIDs in the clinical management of cancer.



  1. Zhao X, Xu Z, Li H. NSAIDs use and reduced metastasis in cancer patients: Results from a meta-analysis. Sci Rep 2017; 7:1875.
  2. Qian BZ. Inflammation fires up cancer metastasis. Semin Cancer Biol 2017; 47:170-176.
  3. Khwaja F, Allen J, Lynch J, Andrews P, Djakiew D. Ibuprofen inhibits survival of bladder cancer cells by induced expression of the p75NTR tumor suppressor protein. Cancer Res 2004; 64:6207-6213.
  4. Krygier S, Djakiew D. Neurotrophin receptor p75NTR suppresses growth and nerve growth factor-mediated metastasis of human prostate cancer cells. Int J Cancer 2002; 98:1-7.

Contributed by Camilo Campo, Medical Student, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA.

Can non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) suppress cancer metastasis?

My patient is asking about the benefits of smoking cessation. How soon should she realize the health benefits of quitting her habit?

She should realize the health benefits of smoking cessation (SC) almost immediately! As the effect of nicotine wears off, just 15-20 minutes after her last cigarette, her heart rate and blood pressure should begin to fall.1,2Other health benefits, some within a year others longer, soon follow. 3,4 Between 2-12 weeks after SC, your patient may notice an improvement in her breathing and pulmonary function tests.

Between 1-9 months, the cilia in the lungs should begin to regenerate and regain normal function, allowing her to adequately clear mucus and bacteria with a decrease in cough and shortness of breath.

At 1 year, the risk of cardiovascular disease (eg, myocardial infarction, stroke) falls by one-half.

At 5 years, the risk of mouth, throat, esophagus, and bladder cancer also drops by one-half.

It takes 10 years for the risk of lung cancer to drop by one-half, and 15 years for it to approach that of non-smokers asymptotically. 4Fun fact: Did you know that in hypertensive patients who smoke, the blood pressure lowering effect of beta-blockers may be partly abolished by tobacco smoking,  whereas alpha-blockers may maintain their antihypertensive effects? 5References

  1. Omvik P. How smoking affects blood pressure. Blood Press. 1996;5:71–77.
  2. Mahmud A, Feely J. Effect of smoking on arterial stiffness and pulse pressure amplification. Hypertension. 2003;41(1):183-187.
  3. US Surgeon General’s Report, 1990, pp. 193, 194, 196, 285, 323
  4. US Surgeon General’s Report, 2010 and World Health Organization. Tobacco Control: Reversal of Risk After Quitting Smoking. IARC Handbooks of Cancer Prevention, Vol. 11. 2007, p. 341.
  5. Trap-Jensen. Effects of smoking on the heart and peripheral circulation. Am Heart J 1988;115:263-7.

Contributed by Felicia Hsu, Medical Student, Harvard Medical School

My patient is asking about the benefits of smoking cessation. How soon should she realize the health benefits of quitting her habit?

My patient with metastatic lung cancer has a WBC count >20,000 without an obvious cause. Can it be related to the cancer?

Absolutely! Although tumor necrosis may be associated with mild to moderate leukocytosis, another explanation for a rise in WBC count (particularly when “leukemoid” like) in patients with cancer may be related to granulocyte colony-stimulating factor (G-CSF) production by the neoplasm itself.  

In vivo production of G-CSF by bladder cancer was reported over 25 years ago in a patient with marked leukocytosis (>100,000)1.  Subsequently, numerous G-CSF-producing tumors have been reported, including those associated with the genitourinary  tract (eg, bladder, ureter, prostate), lung, gynecological organs, gallbladder, stomach, esophagus, small intestine, pancreas, mesothelioma, thyroid, and myeloma2.

 In most cases, G-CSF-producing tumors are advanced with very poor prognosis 2.  Although the mechanism underlying a link between G-CSF production and tumor progression is unclear, a direct action on GCSF receptors of tumor cells, formation of more aggressive cancer cells,  and changes in  the function of T-cells and endothelial cells that may enhance tumor growth have been postulated2.



  1. Ito N, Matsuda T, Kakehi Y, et al. Bladder cancer producing granulocyte colony-stimulating factor. N Engl J Med 1990;323:1709-10.
  2. Yamano T, Moril E, Ikeda J-I, Aozasa K. Granulocyte colony-stimulating factor production and rapid progression of gastric cancer after histological change in the tumor. Jpn J Clin Oncol 2007;37:793-796.
My patient with metastatic lung cancer has a WBC count >20,000 without an obvious cause. Can it be related to the cancer?