An Aspirin A Day Keeps The Cancer Away

By Mo Mozuch on August 13, 2012 3:56 PM EDT

photo:reuters
photo:reuters

New research from the American Cancer Society has found a link between daily aspiring use and reduced cancer risk. The study followed more than 100,000 patients over an 11-year period and found those who took a low dose of aspirin, 75 mg, every day reduced their overall risk of dying from cancer by 16 percent. For gastrointestinal cancers, such as stomach and colon cancers, the risk fell by as much as 40%. It did not have any benefits for smokers suffering from lung cancer. The research is the latest in a series of papers this year touting the cancer-fighting power of daily aspirin. However, researchers are not quite ready to tell people that daily aspirin is a guarantee for a clean bill of health.

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"Our results provide additional support for a potential benefit of daily aspirin use for cancer mortality, but important questions remain about the size of this potential benefit,"  Eric Jacobs, of the American Cancer Society's Epidemiology Research Program, told Fox News.

Researchers were unclear in their findings as to how exactly the aspirin affects the cancer cells within the body. One theory is that it reduces inflammation in the body, dampening tumors. It could also somehow slow the buildups of the mutations that cause cancer. Whatever the reason, the lower mortality rate from aspirin is being attributed to the drug's ability to slow the spread of cancer around the body, possibly because it prevents the cancer cells from sticking to blood platelets.

"Even a relatively modest benefit with respect to overall cancer mortality could still meaningfully influence the balances of risk and benefits of prophylactic aspirin use," says the study published in the current issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.  The paper was accompanied by an editorial by Dr. John Baron, of the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. In the editorial, Baron comments on the recent trend of aspirin studies and their link to cancer.

"The big picture on aspirin use and cancer is very positive. The drug clearly reduces the incidence and mortality from luminal gastrointestinal cancers, and it may similarly affect other cancers," he writes. "This is exciting: simply taking a pill can prevent cancer incidence and cancer death."

Despite its promise, Baron cautions against patients blindly taking aspirin. He reminds readers that aspirin is "a real drug with real toxicity" and that the research shows promise, but should be viewed in a context that includes aspirin's overall affect on the body.  Jacobs agrees.

"Although recent evidence about aspirin use and cancer is encouraging, it is still premature to recommend people start taking aspirin specifically to prevent cancer. Even low-dose aspirin can substantially increase the risk of serious gastrointestinal bleeding," Jacobs told the Guardian. "Decisions about aspirin use should be made by balancing the risks against the benefits in the context of each individual's medical history. Any decision about daily aspirin use should be made only in consultation with a health care professional."

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