It’s a very enticing proposition….that a single, over the counter pill can reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke as well as cancer. Are we there yet? Should we be recommending routine aspirin use even in people without significant cardiovascular risk factors? (click here for a great review of the biology of aspirin by Dr. Quesnelle.)
Recent studies support this proposition although as with most studies, the devil is often in the details. Two meta-analyses led by Peter Rothwell of the University of Oxford examined the effects of aspirin on cancer incidence and death. The first analysis looked at patient data from 51 randomized trials that compared daily aspirin use with control treatments to prevent vascular events such as heart attacks and strokes. They found that aspirin use reduced the risk of non-vascular death by approximately 12% compared with a control treatment and this effect was mainly due to fewer cancer deaths after five years of aspirin usage.
A second analysis looked at whether aspirin use had any impact on the risk of metastasis from solid cancers. Once again, the patients were participants in five randomized trials comparing aspirin with control treatments to prevent vascular events. In total, 987 new solid cancers were diagnosed among the 17,285 participants. Patients who received aspirin were 46% less likely to have cancer with distant metastasis than those using a control treatment.
The researchers also evaluated the impact of aspirin on a specific type of cancer called adenocarcinoma, which can arise in many different organs. They learned that: