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 just developed a fixed drug reaction from ibuprofen. What is the mechanism of this type of skin reaction?

Although its mechanism is not full elucidated, fixed drug eruption (FDE) is thought to result from the drug-induced cytotoxic activation of CD8+ memory T cells.1 ,2

In this context, the culprit medication behaves as a hapten that adheres to basal keratinocytes which in turn results in the recruitment of T cells and inflammation.  However, as the inflammation resolves, CD8+  effector-memory T cells remain in the area in question,  setting the stage for more rapid immunologic reaction when the drug is reintroduced.

Why a systemic drug triggers a reaction only at specific sites in the body is a fascinating question. Prior herpes simplex virus (HSV) infection (eg, on the lips or genitalia) may explain some cases.1 Interestingly, despite the absence of prior herpetic lesions, most patients with FDE are seropositive for HSV. Previously traumatized body sites (e.g. from burns or insect bites) may also create an immune microenvironment conducive to FDE.

The classic presentation of FDE is reappearance of a rash in the genitals, perianal areas, hands, and feet within 30 min to 8 hours of taking the culprit medication.3 Look specifically for NSAIDs, tetracyclines, sulfonamides, and aspirin on the patient’s drug list. 4


  1. Shiohara, T. Fixed drug eruption: Pathogenesis and diagnostic tests. Curr Opin Allergy Clin Immunol 2009; 9:316-21.
  2. Butler, DF. Fixed Drug Eruptions. Medscape. Accessed March 26, 2018.
  3. Korkij W, Soltani K. Fixed drug eruptions: A brief review. Arch Dermatol 1984;120:520.
  4. Oakley, A. Fixed Drug Eruption. Accessed March 26, 2018.


Contributed by Amir Hossein Ameri, Medical Student, Harvard Medical School

My patient just developed a fixed drug reaction from ibuprofen. What is the mechanism of this type of skin reaction?