Aspirin therapy has long been recommended for some suffering from heart disease, but a new study indicates it could also help reduce the risk of certain cancers.
Writing in the journal JAMA Oncology, researchers from the Massachusetts General Hospital say aspirin therapy “significantly reduces the overall risk of cancer, a reduction that primarily reflects a lower risk of colorectal cancer and other tumors of the gastrointestinal tract.”
The findings, they say, could serve to complement types of cancer screening such as a colonoscopy.
"We now can recommend that many individuals consider taking aspirin to reduce their risk of colorectal cancer - particularly those with other reasons for regular use, such as heart disease prevention - but we are not at a point where we can make a general recommendation for overall cancer prevention," said Andrew Chan, chief of the Clinical and Translational Epidemiology Unit in the Massachusetts General Hospital Division of Gastroenterology, the senior author of the report.
"Our findings imply that aspirin use would be expected to prevent a significant number of colorectal cancers above and beyond those that would be prevented by screening and may have even greater benefit in settings in which the resources to devote to cancer screening are lacking," he said.
The researchers said other studies have pointed to a link between aspirin use and lowered risk for colorectal cancer, but that aspirin’s effect on other types of cancer is not fully understood.
For the study, the researchers looked at 32 years of data collected from nearly 136,000 participants in the Nurse’s Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-up Study.
They found that those who reported regular use of aspirin--taking a low or normal dose at least three times a week - lowered their chance of developing “any type” of cancer by 3 percent compared to those who did not take aspirin regularly.
Those who took regular doses of aspirin had a 19 percent lower chance of developing colorectal cancer as well as a 15 percent reduction in chances of getting any gastrointestinal cancer.
This, researchers said, could lead to up to 30,000 fewer cases of gastrointestinal tumors in the U.S. and 7,500 fewer cases of colorectal cancer.
"At this point, it would be very reasonable for individuals to discuss with their physicians the advisability of taking aspirin to prevent gastrointestinal cancer, particularly if they have risk factors such as a family history," said Chan.
"But this should be done with the caveat that patients be well informed about the potential side effects of regular aspirin treatment and continue their regular screening tests. Furthermore, aspirin should not be viewed as a substitute for a colonoscopy or other cancer-screening tests."