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Monday, May 14, 2012

Aspirin the wonder drug is even more wonderful

Peter Rothwell of the University of Oxford and his colleagues have published two papers outlining the correlation between taking aspirin and not getting cancer. Spoiler alert: you’re going to want to stock up on aspirin. Waiver alert: I’m not a medical doctor. Check with one before starting aspirin therapy.

For one set of experiments, the authors compiled data from five different aspirin trials involving over 17,000 people. The trials were originally conducted to determine the effect of taking aspirin on cardiovascular health, but they contained data on cancer as well. Taking aspirin daily significantly reduced the risk of developing cancer or of having that cancer metastasize to the rest of the body. This was true for lung, liver, bone and brain cancers. The exact mechanism is not known, though it may have something to do with the inhibition of platelet formation.

Daily aspirin was protective even if the person had only been taking it for a few years, and even if the aspirin regimen was started after the person had already been diagnosed with cancer (if the cancer hadn’t already spread throughout the body). How great was the benefit? Metastasis was reduced by up to 40% compared to controls who were not taking aspirin. If the person had started taking aspirin before being diagnosed with cancer, the risk of subsequent metastasis was reduced by 70%.

The second set of experiments, using data from 51 different aspirin trials and over 70,000 people, showed similar results. Twenty-year cancer mortality was decreased by up to 30% in people taking aspirin. After taking aspirin for three years, the risk of getting cancer was decreased by about a quarter.

Taking aspirin is not without risks of its own. In particular, aspirin can increase the risk of major bleeding which, in rare cases, can be fatal. However, that risk diminishes over time. If you’ve taken aspirin safely for three years, you probably don’t have to worry about it anymore. But again, consult a doctor if you’re interested in taking daily aspirin as a prophylactic against cancer or heart disease.

Photo by Sauligno, 1/1/2000.