Does Aspirin Lower Cancer Risk?

Stomach cancer risk lowered by daily aspirin use

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) Recent news that aspirin performs as well as the blockbuster blood thinning drug Plavix, may not be the crowning achievement of this respected drug.

Several large, independent studies published recently confirm that long term use of aspirin shows a clearly lowered risk for the development of colon, gastric, and cancer of the esophagus.

"Ask your doctor about long term, daily use of aspirin."

This research began to investigate a theory about the role inflammation plays in predisposing cells to cancer development, but as the study finished, even the lead scientist was surprised at how strong the effect was.

Peter M. Rothwell, MD, and his team from the University of Oxford, previously found evidence that a long term effect of aspirin may reduce cancer risk, but he believed that over a decade's worth of daily aspirin use was necessary for effects to be seen.

That turned out to not be the case. "What we have now shown is that aspirin also has short-term effects, which manifest after only 2-3 years."

Besides reducing the risk of developing cancer, aspirin was shown to statistically lower the risk of dying from cancer, mainly by reducing metastasis.

The first study by Dr. Rothwell looked at nearly 18,000 participants for six years, taking more than 75 milligrams of aspirin. A typical baby aspirin is 81 milligrams.

"In particular, we show that aspirin reduces the likelihood that cancers will spread to distant organs by about 40-50%," said Dr. Rothwell.

Although there does seem to be a general consensus on aspirin's benefits with a few downsides. Aspirin may cause small amounts of bleeding in the stomach of elderly patients.

The noted neurologist went on to recommend immediate, widespread adoption of daily aspirin use despite the slight potential bleeding risks.

“What really jumps out at you in terms of prevention is the striking 75 percent reduction in esophageal cancer and a 40 to 50 percent reduction in colorectal cancer, which is the most common cancer right now,” Dr. Rothwell said. “In terms of prevention, anyone with a family history would be sensible to take aspirin,” he added.

The other study included 51 different randomized trials, comparing aspirin users to those not using any anti-inflammatory drugs, nearly a quarter of a million study participants in total. Statistical conclusions were similar in support for aspirin's role in reducing cancer risk.

Although the effects were most pronounced for reducing cancers formed throughout the gastrointestinal tract, the benefits did not stop there, as the anti-inflammatory effects of aspirin might counteract the role of chronic inflammation in cancer.

"In terms of preventing the longer-term development of new cancers, the largest reductions are seen in risk of colorectal cancer and oesophageal cancer, with smaller effects on several other common cancers," said Rothwell.

Aspirin is nearly universally recommended for patients who have had heart attacks, or certain kinds of stroke, and has been proven to reduce complications for heart disease.

Two large studies performed in the United States in the last 15 years found no link between aspirin and reduced cancer risk, although aspirin was not given daily in these studies.

Both studies were published in the medical journal The Lancet, in March 2012

Dr. Rothwell states that no funding was provided to him from external sources to perform this research, other than the University of Oxford.

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Review Date: 
May 11, 2012
Last Updated:
July 6, 2012