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New study reports less cancer reduction benefit from aspirin

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
aspirin, cancer preventative, cancer death, cardiovascular disease

A number of studies have found that daily aspirin reduces the risk of cancer; however, a new study suggests that the benefits may be not as great as previously reported. Researchers affiliated with the American Cancer Society's Epidemiology Research Program published their findings on August 10 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Three studies, which were published last March 21 in the journals The Lancet and The Lancet Oncology, reported a decreased risk of dying from cancer with an aspirin regimen. However, the new study noted that the magnitude of the effect of daily aspirin use, particularly long-term use, on cancer mortality is uncertain. The researchers examined the association between daily aspirin use and overall cancer mortality among 100,139 men and women with no history of cancer in the Cancer Prevention Study II Nutrition Cohort.

The researchers found that between 1997 and 2008, 5,138 study participants died from cancer. Compared with no use, daily aspirin use at baseline was associated with slightly lower cancer mortality, regardless of the duration of daily use. For use less than five years, the risk reduction was 92% of that for no-users; for five or more years of use, the risk reduction was the same. The investigators found a slightly increased benefit in analyses that used updated aspirin information from periodic follow-up questionnaires. These analyses included 3,373 cancer deaths; for aspirin use of less than five years duration the risk reduction was 84% of that for non-users; the risk reduction was also 84% for individuals who were on an aspirin regimen for more than five years.

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The authors concluded that their findings were consistent with an association between recent daily aspirin use and modestly lower cancer mortality; however, it suggested that any reduction in cancer mortality may be smaller than that observed with long-term aspirin use in other recent studies.

Take home message:
Although this study reported less benefit from an aspirin regimen for cancer prevention than the studies published last March, it did show a risk reduction. More important factors for cancer prevention include healthy life style choices. For example, any benefit from aspirin would be negated by the adverse effects of cigarette smoking. Although aspirin is readily available over the counter, remember that it is a drug and all drugs have a risk of side-effects. For individuals with a history (or family history) of heart disease, blood clots, or colon cancer, the benefits of aspirin outweigh the risks for most. In addition, if you are on an aspirin regimen or are considering beginning one, it is prudent to discuss the pros and cons with a healthcare professional.

Reference: Journal of the National Cancer Institute

See also:
An aspirin a day keeps the cancer away
New Study: Is daily aspirin good for you?
New aspirin compound has potential for cancer treatment