Aspirin May Protect Against Several Cancer Types

Daily use of aspirin may reduce the risk of death from several common cancers, including lung, colorectal, and esophageal cancers. These findings were reported in The Lancet.

Some studies have suggested that use of aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen may help protect against colorectal cancer. As well, research has also suggested that aspirin may help prevent other cancers, particularly cancers of the gastrointestinal tract; conclusive evidence in cancers other than colorectal, however, has been lacking.

To further evaluate whether aspirin may protect against cancer types in addition to colorectal cancer, researchers used data from eight different randomized trials of aspirin versus no aspirin use. All trials were conducted over four years or more. Data from a total of 25,570 patients were evaluated, and 674 cancer deaths were observed.

  • Daily aspirin was associated with a 20% reduction in risk of cancer death. Findings for specific cancer types included a 30% lower risk of lung cancer death, a 40% lower risk of colorectal cancer death, and a 60% lower risk of esophageal cancer death. Death due to any type of gastrointestinal cancer was reduced by 35%.
  • Benefit of aspirin became apparent after five years of follow-up.
  • 20 years later, the risk of cancer death still remained lower in the aspirin group.
  • Benefit of aspirin increased with duration of use.
  • Benefit of aspirin was apparent at five years for esophageal, pancreatic, brain, and lung cancers but more delayed for stomach, colorectal, and prostate cancers.
  • Benefit of aspirin was similar for all doses (75 mg and higher) and was not affected by age, sex, or smoking.
  • Aspirin benefit increased with age.

It appears that daily use of aspirin may help protect against death from several cancers. However, due to certain risks associated with aspirin (such as bleeding in the brain), individuals should discuss daily aspirin use with their doctor before beginning a preventive regimen.

Reference: Rothwell PM, Fowkes FG, Belch JF, et al. Effect of daily aspirin on long-term risk of death due to cancer: analysis of individual patient data from randomised trials. The Lancet [early online publication]. December 7, 2010.

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