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Taking aspirin daily can prevent cancer

By News team

Daily low-dose aspirin can prevent, and possibly treat, cancer, according to a series of Lancet research papers published online this week.

In two studies published in The Lancet, researchers selected more than 50 trials of daily aspirin use for the prevention of vascular disease or events and analysed aspirin’s effect on cancer deaths and spread.

The first meta-analysis found that aspirin, irrespective of dose, was linked with a 15 per cent reduction in the risk of dying from cancer. The benefit was seen within three years for high aspirin doses and after five years for doses lower than 300mg a day.

Aspirin was also associated with reductions in cancer incidence, regardless of gender or whether individuals smoked. Initially there was a reduction in the risk of major vascular events among aspirin users, offset by an increased risk of major bleeding, but both effects diminished over time leaving only a reduced cancer risk (after at least three years of aspirin use). The authors say the findings add to the case for using daily aspirin in the prevention of cancer.

According to the second Lancet study, aspirin was also associated with up to a 46 per cent reduction in the risk of cancer metastases. This could be due to aspirin’s effect on platelets, which are thought to play a part in metastasis, the authors suggest.

In a third paper, published in The Lancet Oncology, researchers examined aspirin’s effect on cancer metastasis by reviewing observational data — rather than data from randomised trials, which lack the statistical power to show the drug’s effects on less common cancers.

Regular use of aspirin was associated with a reduction in the long-term risk of several cancers and in the risk of cancer spreading to distant tissues.

Consultant cancer pharmacist and Royal Pharmaceutical Society spokesman Steve Williamson said: "These trials are excellent news and offer the potential for improved prevention of cancers. Patients should talk to their doctor or pharmacist to see if they are likely to benefit.

"[It is key that] people try to understand the other things they can do to prevent cancer — the best way of reducing risk of cancer is a healthy lifestyle, diet and no smoking."

Study method and results

The first Lancet study included data from 51 randomised trials comparing daily aspirin and no aspirin for the primary or secondary prevention of vascular disease. Irrespective of dose, aspirin reduced the risk of non-vascular death by 12 per cent and of cancer death by 15 per cent. The benefit was seen within three years for high aspirin doses and after five years for lower doses (<300mg/day).

Risk of death from cancer was cut by 37 per cent for those on aspirin for five years or more compared with those not taking aspirin (odds ratio 0.63, 95% confidence interval 0.49–0.82; P=0.0005).

The second Lancet article examined data from five randomised controlled trials of daily aspirin (=75mg) versus control for the prevention of vascular events. Aspirin was associated with a reduction in the risk of cancer metastasis to distant tissues (36 per cent) and of metastasis of adenocarcinoma (46 per cent) and of other solid cancers (18 per cent).

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Citation: The Pharmaceutical JournalURI: 11097766

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  • Aspirin tablets (Dreamstime.com)

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