Who in their wildest dreams would have ever thought that taking one little aspirin a day might not only help prevent some cancers by 25%; reduce the risk of dying from cancer by up to 37%; AND, prevent the spread of cancer to other parts of the body by as much as 40-50%? Could it be that aspirin, an over the counter remedy found in every household, could be an essential weapon in the fight against this deadly disease?
Studies are positive on all three counts, according to reports published in The Lancet and The Lancet Oncology on March 21st, by one of the world’s top aspirin researchers, Professor Peter Rothwell of the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences at Oxford University in the UK, and colleagues.
Far from an instant preventative, Rothwell’s studies revealed that low dose aspirin would need to be taken for 2-3 years to achieve full beneficial effect; however, this is a vast improvement over previous studies that indicated that the advance time might be as long as 8-10 years.
Findings for those already stricken with the illness, however, indicated that immediate inclusion of a daily aspirin within a treatment regimen could have positive impact on survival rate and prevention of metastasis.
Throughout the reports, Rothwell emphasized that these findings represent a sound basis for immediate clinical trials to test the efficacy of low dose aspirin as a preventative to cancer, to lessen the percentages of deaths from cancer, and to prevent metastasis of existing cancers. Trials should also concentrate of types of cancers affected by aspirin as well as side effects of long term aspirin use balanced against benefits of treatment.
Usage of a daily aspirin, although already in use by thousands of heart and potential stroke patients, is not without risk, and benefits of use in cancer prevention/treatment will have to be carefully weighed against possible risks to determine the course of action with each individual patient.
As a risk factor, Rothwell does address the issue of stomach bleeds in his article, stating that the risk appears to reduce over time, and that the risk of dying from a stomach bleed caused by daily aspirin is no greater than with a placebo. Internal bleeds can be fatal, especially in those aged 70 and older; however, Rothwell has stated that in the 85-90% of people who can tolerate the aspirin daily dose, the risk of dying of a stomach bleed is lower than normal. He also states that data on subjects using aspirin to prevent heart disease and stroke were included in his research which strongly suggested that in prolonged use the risk-reducing benefits of daily aspirin will be greater in preventing/treating cancer than for heart disease or stroke patients.
Rothwell’s articles do address which cancers appeared to respond more to aspirin use than others. The largest reductions in development of new cancers was seen in 40-45% reduction in risk of colorectal and an astounding 75% risk reduction of esophageal cancer with a smaller reduction in prostate and adenocarcinoma, a form of lung cancer. There was no appreciable reduction in kidney, bladder, or lung cancers common to smokers.
Best results regarding prevention of spread of cancers were seen in adenocarcinomas (cancers of gut, colorectal cancer in particular, most breast, prostate, and some lung cancers). It was determined by findings that long term aspirin use reduced metastasis by 40-50%.
As an aside, one medical discovery always leads to another question. This time the question is how does aspirin stop the cancer’s spread. Right now, no one knows for sure. However, there may be a link between aspirin’s prevention of platelet formation which seems to keep the cancer cells from being carried around the body on blood platelets. Therefore, maybe the reduced risk of death can be attributed to this inability of the cancer cells to spread to other organs; a second study has revealed a 36% reduction in metastasis when taking one low dose aspirin daily.
All of this is wonderful news, especially if you are middle aged – or if you will be in two or three years – and have a familial history of cancer, or if you have cancer now, but does it mean you should go right out and stock up on low dose aspirin and start taking one every day? Or maybe you just want to be sure you don’t have to worry about cancer so you think you’ll just start taking one a day to be sure?