Could Daily Aspirin Prevent Cancer?

Generic regular strength enteric coated 325mg ...
Generic regular strength enteric coated 325mg aspirin tablets, distributed by Target Corporation. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You’ve heard that taking an aspirin a day can help lower your risk of stroke and heart attack, now there’s another good reason to consider taking a daily aspirin. Some intriguing new studies strongly suggest that aspirin may prevent some cancers, and might also be a potential treatment for those who already have the disease.

In a group of studies a team from the UK expanded on earlier work that linked a daily low dose aspirin and full strength aspirin to a lower risk of death by cancer over ten years of follow up. Those who were taking aspirin for 5 years had a reduced chance of dying as a result of cancer, or having their cancer spread once identified.

In the latest research the team investigated the short-term influence of aspirin on cancer. They saw a reduction in cancer after just 3 years of daily use according to the world’s top aspirin researcher.

In another of the recent studies, the team looked at data from 51 projects that were originally designed to evaluate a low-dose aspirin a day for heart attack as well as stroke risk. But they found that taking aspirin daily cut the chance of death as a result of cancer by nearly 40% after 5 years; and cut risk of cancer incidence 25% after 3 years of taking an aspirin daily.

Far less than the ten years of therapy previously thought to be needed to get the benefit of aspirin therapy.

Even more critical are the findings on aspirin’s effect on the spread of cancer in patients. Uncovering aspirin’s effect on cancer metastasis (spread through the body) came from an examination of recently published data from 5 large trials.

Researchers saw, depending on the follow up period and type of cancer, that there was a lower chance of the disease reaching other parts of the body when patients took aspirin daily. The reduction appears to be from 40% to 50%, which is impressive since cancer spread is often responsible for death in those with cancer. No drug has yet been shown to prevent distant metastasis, making these findings quite valuable.

New recommendations now suggest men who are from 45 to 79 years old take a daily aspirin so long as the potential benefit outweighs the risk. For women, aspirin therapy should begin between 55 to 79 years old, again, so long as the benefit of the therapy outweighs the risk.

And there are risks…

They include major stomach bleeding; uncommon but fatal if it happens. One reassuring finding of the recent analysis is that risks of a major bleeding episode went down over time in those who were taking low dose aspirin each day.

Trials of aspirin specifically for the treatment or prevention of cancer are needed urgently. Until more work is done, it’s cancer patients should talk to their health providers about daily aspirin therapy, and if it’s right for you. You need to look at your own individual risks as well as consider the limitations on this data before you make up your mind.

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