A true wonder drug

You may have heard about a study just published in the British medical journal The Lancet that could be really good news for people at risk for certain types of cancer.

Essentially, researchers aggregated results of a number of long-term, independent investigations on the role of aspirin in colorectal and other cancers vs. non-aspirin treatment in over 25,000 patients. What they found was

Daily aspirin reduced deaths due to several common cancers during and after the trials. Benefit increased with duration of treatment and was consistent across the different study populations. These findings have implications for guidelines on use of aspirin and for understanding of carcinogenesis and its susceptibility to drug intervention.

The projected risk of developing solid tumor cancers, like lung cancer, for people taking low-dose aspirin for 20 years was at least a 20 percent lower than those that did not take aspirin. Results of risk reduction for individual cancers were very encouraging – aspirin use lowered the death risk for esophageal cancer (60 percent), bowel cancer (40 percent), lung cancer (30 percent), and prostate cancer death risk by (10 percent). An earlier study had also shown that low-dose aspirin had a similar impact on colorectal cancer.

The length of aspirin use and the age of the patient had an effect on the actual risk reduction – benefits were higher in older patients and in those taking aspirin the longest. Researchers are not quite sure why it works this way but theories include aspirin’s effect on early cancer cell development, or its anti-inflammatory properties; chronic inflammation has been linked to cancer.

Now before you go running to your local pharmacy, experts cautioned that taking an aspirin a day may not be right for everyone. Even doctors are split on the benefits of daily aspirin use – some say “yes” for older patients, others say it should only be given to patients with certain conditions, others are taking a wait-and-see approach.

There are known side effects of daily aspirin use, including loss of vision, bleeding in the brain, and stomach irritation. The study was also primarily conducted with male patients, so it is not known if large female cohorts would demonstrate similar results. As with all potential treatments, talk to your doctor before you reach for that pill bottle. However, if results pan out with larger investigations, Acetylsalicylic acid may truly be the wonder drug it was first promoted as over a century ago.