Aspirin linked with significantly lower risk of developing multiple cancers

The simple, inexpensive blood thinner and pain reliever aspirin has been associated with a significant reduction in the risks of several types of cancers, according to a newly published study. The potential benefits were linked to cancers of the digestive tract, including ones that are often deadly like pancreatic cancer. The findings were based on more than 100 observational studies.

Acetylsalicylic acid, more commonly called aspirin, is an inexpensive drug that is typically used to treat pain, thin blood, and reduce fevers. The medication is available over the counter and through prescriptions and may, in some cases, be taken daily in low doses for various health reasons. Because of the drug's blood-thinning effect, it shouldn't be taken regularly or in high doses without consulting a doctor first.

The latest study, which was recently published in the Annals of Oncology, found that across 156,000 cases, the regular use of aspirin — meaning one to two tablets taken weekly — was linked to reductions in digestive cancers, but not with head and neck cancers.

The reduction, in cases where it was present, was significant, including a 38-percent decrease in hepato-biliary cancers, a 39-percent decrease in gastric cardia, 27-percent decrease in bowel cancer, and 22-percent decrease in pancreatic cancer. Looking specifically at bowel cancer, the researchers found that higher doses of aspirin were linked with a greater reduction in cancer risk.

This doesn't mean that someone should start taking aspirin regularly, however, nor that they should start taking high doses of the drug. Study lead Dr. Cristina Bosetti, Ph.D., explained:

...the estimate for high dose aspirin was based on just a few studies and should be interpreted cautiously. Our findings on bowel cancer support the concept that higher aspirin doses are associated with a larger reduction in risk of the disease. However, the choice of dose should also take into consideration the potential risk of stomach bleeds, which increases with higher aspirin doses.

Another researcher on the study, Professor Carlo La Vecchia, also noted:

Taking aspirin for the prevention of bowel cancer, or any other cancers, should only be done in consultation with a doctor, who can take account of the person's individual risk. This includes factors such as sex, age, a family history of a first-degree relative with the disease, and other risk factors. People who are at high risk of the disease are most likely to gain the greatest benefits from aspirin.