Professor Sir John Burn

Teaching an old dog new tricks – using aspirin to prevent cancer

Professor Sir John Burn is a Professor of Clinical Genetics at Newcastle University. His research focuses on the prevention of cancer in those who have a high risk of the disease, using a drug found in most people’s medicine cabinets – aspirin.

Back in 2011, Burn and colleagues published the results of a pioneering study that showed taking a daily dose of aspirin for two years dramatically reduced the risk of several types of cancer in people with a condition called Lynch syndrome. Faulty genes that are passed down through families cause this disorder and increase the chances that a person will develop certain types of cancer, particularly bowel cancer. Many bowel cancers are caused by faults to a specific mechanism that a cell uses to fix its DNA, called ‘mismatch repair’.

Now that the team has established the cancer-preventing role of aspirin in people with Lynch syndrome, Professor Burn is comparing how well different doses protect against cancer in a new clinical trial called CaPP3. If cancer can be prevented in these patients using smaller amounts of aspirin, then they could also have fewer side effects and have a better quality of life. This research will also help establish whether aspirin should be used in the general population to help prevent cancer, potentially reducing the number of people affected by the disease.


Cancer prevention
Clinical trials

Institute of Genetic Medicine, International Centre for Life, Newcastle