Aspirin for Cancer Prevention?

By Michael Edmonds 23/03/2012

The current copy of the Lancet, one of general medicine’s leading journals, contains several research articles and comment piece on the potential benefits of aspirin in cancer prevention. While it has been well established that aspirin can have a significant role in the treatment of “vascular events” (e.g. heart disease), new evidence appears to show it may have a significant role to play  in the prevention of a range in cancers, in particular colorectal cancers. The research suggests that long term use (5 years+) of aspirin may reduce the risk of cancer by 21%, and that this effect is irrespective of dose. For colorectal cancer there is a 24% reduction.

With cancer the second most common cause of death worldwide, a simple preventative agent such as aspirin would have a profound effect on cancer prevention. Of course, however, one needs to consider the potential side effects; for some aspirin can cause gastrointestinal pain and bleeding. Still, if the conclusions of this research is proved correct, aspirin could prove a major breakthrough in not only the prevention of heart disase, high blood pressure, cataracts and pre-eclampsia pregancy, but also have in the prevention of cancer.

Looking at this research sceptically, I did wonder if there is any bias in the results, perhaps somehow they have been drawn from a cohort of patients that don’t truly represent the public. However, the data is drawn from a long term randomised control trial using subjects taking aspirin for the prevention of vascular events. 

The material in this blog post has been drawn from the two of the articles in the Lancet, online March12th edition. Links to these can be found here and here, although full text access may not be possible.

The comment piece in the Lancet by Andrew T. Chan and Nancy R. Cook of Harvard Medical School, also points out that the results of these studies hint at the preventative mechanism of aspirin – the need to take aspirin for 5 years before there is an effect seen for the prevention of invasive cancer suggests that at least some of it’s effects would occur early  in carcinogenesis.

This is an intriguing piece of research.