In the advertisements for aspirin you see every day on TV and in magazines, they have for years called it a wonder drug. Now, more and more of us doctors are finding that is truly the case. In past blogs I’ve told you, “Low-dose aspirin reduces risk of developing and dying from colon cancer,” and “Single Dose of Aspirin Effective in Relieving Migraine Pain.” And, millions of people take 81 mg of aspirin every day for heart health.
Now, a new study in The Lancet indicates that “aspirin may be much more effective than anyone knew at helping prevent cancer deaths.”
The stunning finding came while researchers were studying 25,000 people taking daily aspirin to prevent heart disease. It turns out aspirin was doing something else, reducing the death rate from cancer as well.
In fact, in the trials where people have taken aspirin four, five, six, seven years on average, the risk of dying of cancer was reduced by about 25%.
So, you may ask, “Should everyone take low-dose aspirin?”
The American Cancer Society said no and that “it would be premature to recommend people start taking aspirin specifically to prevent cancer,” considering that “even low dose aspirin can lead to dangerous internal bleeding. Still, evidence that it might help fight cancer is intriguing for doctors.”
Even so, in the Lancet study, daily aspirin use appeared to lower the risk of death from cancer by 21% in randomized trial participants. It’s important for me to point out that the findings, by themselves, do not prove that aspirin prevents cancer or even cancer death and that the role of aspirin as a chemoprevention agent needs clarification by further studies.
Nevertheless, researchers at Oxford reached the conclusion that a daily low-dose aspirin could significantly lower cancer deaths. They came to that conclusion after examining “the cancer death rates of 25,570 patients who had participated in eight different randomized controlled trials of aspirin that ended up to 20 years earlier,” the New York Times reports.
“Participants who had been assigned to the aspirin arms of the studies were 20 percent less likely after 20 years to have died of solid tumor cancers than those who had been in the comparison group taking dummy pills during the clinical trials, and their risk of gastrointestinal cancer death was 35 percent lower. The risk of lung cancer death was 30 percent lower, the risk of colorectal cancer death was 40 percent lower, and the risk of esophageal cancer death was 60 percent lower.”
Only “one-third of people in the analysis were women — not enough to calculate any estimates for breast cancer,” the AP points out.
And, “there appeared to be no benefit to taking more than 75 milligrams daily — roughly the amount in a European dose of baby aspirin and a bit less than the baby aspirin dose in the US.”
In addition, “aspirin was not found to [significantly] influence the risk of death from pancreatic, prostate, bladder, kidney, brain, or blood cancers,” the Los Angeles Times reports.
Yet, lead investigator Dr. Peter M. “Rothwell noted that most of the subjects stopped taking aspirin at the end of the study – or, alternatively, many in the control group began taking it — potentially confusing the results.” He added that “‘it’s likely that if people had carried on taking aspirin,’ the benefit would have been greater.”
Rothwell also said that “healthy middle-aged men and women may benefit the most from taking aspirin over a long period,” and medical guidelines “may be updated on the back of these results,” Bloomberg News reports.
Meanwhile, an 80-year-old expert at Cardiff University “who has published 300 research papers over 50 years” said, “The man on the street knows betting odds.” Peter Elwood, “who has been taking aspirin since 1974 and wasn’t involved in the study,” maintained that “people should ‘evaluate the risks for themselves.'”
But increasingly, my patients, when evaluating the risks and benefits of daily 81-mg aspirin, are choosing to take it.