Study links aspirin and cancer survival – don’t start pills yet

Aspirin

After five years of low-dose aspirin, the risk of death from cancer could be reduced. Image: Flickr / looseid / CC-BY-ND

According to a new study published in The Lancet, low-dose aspirin may significantly reduce the risk of dying from cancer. The study, published today, reviewed eight previous studies involving 25,500 subjects. While the study is promising, there are significant gaps, and doctors do not recommend immediately starting an aspirin regimen.

Risk of cancer death appears to be reduced with aspirin

The meta-study published today was completed by a team of British researchers. They found that 75 milligrams of aspirin taken daily for five years or more reduces the risk of dying from cancer. Deaths from lung and prostate cancer were reduced about 20 percent, gastrointestinal cancers by 54 percent and esophageal cancers by 60 percent. These benefits appeared after daily low-dose aspirin had been taken for between five and 20 years. The studies had originally been designed to look at the cardiovascular effects of taking daily aspirin.

Daily aspirin not yet recommended

Though the study shows significant and dramatic improvement in the prospect of surviving some cancers, the researchers do not yet recommend it as a daily regimen. This meta-study considered a relatively low number of subjects, and more study needs to be conducted as “proof of principle.” While aspirin is relatively safe, a daily regimen can cause thinning of the blood, heartburn, loss of balance and ringing in the ears. “I definitely think we wouldn’t want to make any treatment decisions based on this study,” said Dr. Raymond DuBois, a provost of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

Gaps in the aspirin-cancer study

The two studies that found the link between aspirin and improved cancer survival rates have both been conducted by the same group of researchers in Britain. These two studies, however, still leave significant gaps. Only about 33 percent of the 25,500 subjects in the main meta-analysis were women. Additionally, data was absent on the effect of taking low-dose aspirin on less-common cancers, such as brain and stomach cancer. Finally, because the studies were originally designed to measure the benefit of aspirin on the heart, the subjects may be from a statistically skewed group of patients.

In the end, this aspirin cancer link is an exciting and possibly useful one, but there is not nearly enough research yet to safely recommend it as a treatment for most people.

Sources

Washington Post
Business Week

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