What Aspirin Might Do for GI Cancer Patients

Aspirin in gastrointestinal cancer patients linked to increased survival

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) A common medication may help some cancer patients live longer, new evidence suggests.

A new study found that aspirin taken after diagnosis might improve survival in patients with gastrointestinal (GI) cancers. But some experts are warning that it might be too soon to call aspirin a lifesaver for these patients.

Past research found that aspirin might increase survival time in patients with colorectal cancer, but this study of nearly 14,000 patients looked at other GI cancers, as well as colorectal cancer.

This study was presented Sept. 27 at the 2015 European Cancer Congress by lead author Martine Frouws, MD, of Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands. Because it has not yet been published, this research has not yet been peer-reviewed, noted the United Kingdom's National Health Service (NHS).

To study aspirin's effect on patients with GI cancers, Dr. Frouws and colleagues looked at patient data between 1998 and 2011. The research team linked aspirin use to overall survival by looking at patient prescriptions in a pharmaceutical database. The majority of patients had cancer of the colon, rectum or esophagus.

Among the 13,715 patients studied, 30.5 percent used aspirin before being diagnosed with a GI cancer, Dr. Frouws and team found. Just over 8 percent took aspirin only after being diagnosed. The remaining patients took no aspirin at all during this study. The average follow-up time was about two years.

Patients who took aspirin after being diagnosed with a GI cancer had the highest chance of survival among the patients in this study — nearly twice as high as the other patients. Fifty-six percent of the study patients survived for at least five years.

Although Dr. Frouws and team said they allowed and adjusted for factors that could have affected the results (such as age, gender, cancer stage and other treatments), the NHS noted that this research doesn't necessarily prove that aspirin led to increased survival for patients. This research only suggests a link between post-diagnosis aspirin use and improved survival in GI cancer patients.

"[I]t’s worth bearing in mind that the researchers have not found taking aspirin can stop you getting cancer," according to the NHS. "Also, taking aspirin regularly carries a risk of side effects such as internal bleeding. It would need to be ensured that benefits of the drug in terms of cancer survival outweighed these risks."

The NHS noted that a full study is not yet available and called for more in-depth research on this topic. A press release on the current study noted that such research is currently underway.

Dr. Frouws and team disclosed no funding sources or conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
September 28, 2015
Last Updated:
October 5, 2015