Aspirin can protect us against some cancers and may even stop tumours from spreading.
Past research has shown that aspirin can reduce the risk of having a heart attack, and stroke but now there is new evidence that it can also protect us against cancer. The three studies were carried out by Professor Peter Rothwell of the University of Oxford and John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, and colleagues and published in The Lancet.
The scientists looked at data on patients from 51 previous randomised trials, where some patients were given a daily low dose of aspirin (75 – 300mg), and others – the controls in the study – weren’t. When the team looked at the results they found that after three years those patients who had taken a low dose of aspirin daily had around a 15% lower risk of death from cancer than those in the control group. After five years this increased to a 37% reduced risk of death from cancer.
Taking a low dose of aspirin every day for three years and more, also reduced the incidence of cancer by 23% in men and 25% in women.
In the second article, the scientists collected information on the spread of cancer through the body. “In particular we show that aspirin reduces the likelihood that cancers will spread to distant organs by about 40 to 50%. This is important because it is this spread of cancer – or metastasis – which most commonly kills people with cancer,” explained Professor Rothwell.
This showed that as well as the longer-term health benefits, in the case of preventing the spread of cancer, aspirin also has short-term effects which come into effect after only two to three years.
Could taking aspirin after you’ve been diagnosed with cancer help to prevent it from spreading? The studies can’t give a definitive answer to this, as the patients in the trials were taking aspirin before their cancer was diagnosed. However, Professor Rothwell did find some encouraging results in his work. “First, patients who started taking aspirin only a few weeks or months before a cancer was diagnosed had the same reduction of metastasis as people who had been taking aspirin much longer,” he explained. “Secondly, most of the reduction was seen in those patients who had continued to take aspirin up until or after they had cancer diagnosed, whereas there was little benefit in those patients who stopped months or years prior to diagnosis.”
But before you rush to your medicine cabinet or the nearest pharmacy, it’s important to talk to your GP. Aspirin can cause internal bleeding, and you shouldn’t take it if you have certain conditions, such as a bleeding disorder or stomach ulcer. Aspirin can also react with other drugs you take, so make sure you tell your GP about non-prescription drugs you’ve taken, such as ibuprofen.
“This is an exciting development. This latest research adds to the evidence that taking a daily dose of aspirin for several years is one of the things that can help to lower the risk of oesophageal, bowel, stomach and lung cancers,” said Professor Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician.
“The research also suggests that aspirin may help to prevent cancer from spreading in the body, so it could be beneficial for people already diagnosed with cancer. However, because of the risk of bleeding, patients should discuss this with their specialist before starting to take aspirin, and be aware of the potential for increased complications before surgery or other treatments such as chemotherapy.
“Cancer Research UK is already investigating the anti cancer properties of aspirin. These findings show we’re on the right track and we will continue our focus on this important area of research. Following publication of these studies we now need some definitive advice from the Government as to whether aspirin should be recommended more widely.”
This comment echoes the call from Professor Rothwell, that further studies to confirm the health benefits of aspirin need to be carried out urgently.