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Aspirin Vs. Cancer: What Are We Waiting For?

The latest research is in and it is really good news. Once again aspirin has been shown to reduce the risk of one of the deadliest cancers–melanoma–a skin cancer that is notoriously hard to treat.
The data came from the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI), one of the most important research initiatives in memory. You may recall that it was the WHI that uncovered the sad truth about the risks of hormone replacement therapy (HRT). The study started in 1991 and followed over 160,000 postmenopausal women for at least 15 years. HRT in the form of Prempro (estrogens and progestin) increased the risk for heart attacks, strokes, blood clots and most worrisome of all, breast cancer.
Scientists have continued to track many of the women who were recruited into the WHI. The latest research focused on the likelihood of developing melanoma in nearly 60,000 Caucasian women who participated in this program. They were tracked for 12 years. Those who took a standard aspirin tablet at least twice a week reduced their risk of developing melanoma by 21 percent. Women who regularly relied on aspirin for at least five years decreased their likelihood of being diagnosed with melanoma by 30 percent.
The lead investigator of the study, Dr. Jean Tang at Stanford University School of Medicine told NPR, that “In terms of cancer prevention, a lower melanoma risk by 20 percent is very large and significant… There’s nothing else that I know of that has as large an effect as what we’re seeing with aspirin.”
Despite this long-term study’s positive results there are a lot of naysayers when it comes to aspirin vs. cancer. Some point out that this was not a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. It was “only” an observational study, meaning that the investigators compared self-reported aspirin users with women who said that they used NSAID (ibuprofen or naproxen) pain relievers or acetaminophen.
The gold standard would have been a study in which women were randomized to take aspirin, placebo, NSAIDs or acetaminophen. They would have been tracked for years to see whether there was a difference in outcome. The only problem is that such a study will never be conducted because it would cost too much and our government is not likely to come up with the hundreds of millions such a study would require. No drug company would sponsor such a study since aspirin is dirt cheap and available generically.
If this were the only study suggesting that aspirin might be beneficial in preventing hard-to-treat cancers, we too might be a bit cautious. But this is not the first time we have seen a strong connection between the use of aspirin and a reduced risk of serious cancers.
Other studies have also found that aspirin use has been linked with a lower likelihood of developing squamous cell carcinoma of the skin as well as melanoma. A case-control study from China shows that women who took aspirin twice a week for at least a month were nearly 50 percent less likely to be diagnosed with lung cancer. That was among non-smokers. Among women who smoked, the reduction was 62 percent.
An aspirin study from the Netherlands suggests that aspirin may actually improve survival in patients with colon cancer. Almost 4,500 people were included in the study that spanned nearly a decade. Of these, almost one in four took aspirin after their cancer diagnosis. Half had already been taking aspirin before the diagnosis and continued taking their low-dose aspirin pill after beginning treatment. One quarter of the colon cancer patients did not take aspirin. The researchers found that taking a baby aspirin pill daily reduced the risk of dying from colon cancer by up to 30 percent over the course of the decade.
A report published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute showed that people taking daily aspirin were 40% less likely to develop digestive tract cancers. Over 100,000 American senior citizens were tracked for 10 years.
A ten-year study of more than 300,000 individuals between 50 and 71 at the outset has demonstrated that aspirin use is associated with less liver cancer and even death from liver disease.
People who took non-aspirin anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen and naproxen had a one-third lower likelihood of liver cancer, but were just as likely as people not taking pain relievers to die from liver disease. Those taking aspirin, on the other hand, had a 37 percent lower risk of liver cancer and cut their risk of dying from liver disease in half.
When researchers review lots of aspirin trials they come up with the same result over and over. An analysis involved more than 50 clinical trials designed to determine if aspirin could prevent heart attacks and strokes. Nearly 80,000 subjects were included, and those assigned to take aspirin had 15 percent fewer deaths from cancer. They also experienced protection from heart attacks and strokes.
Another analysis covered 17,000 participants taking 75 mg of aspirin in randomized controlled trials. In this group of people, aspirin reduced the risk of metastasis by about 36 percent. This inexpensive drug appears to offer protection against cancers of the esophagus, breast, lung and stomach as well as against colon cancer. The scientists also found that, although aspirin can increase the risk of internal bleeding, this danger tends to fade with time and does not outweigh the cancer-protection benefit.
Even with all this good news about aspirin vs. cancer, there are a lot of clinicians who cannot bring themselves to say that aspirin could be one of the most valuable anti-cancer drugs in history. They point out that aspirin causes digestive tract upset and can lead to bleeding ulcers and that can be a life-threatening situation. We do not disagree that aspirin can be dangerous for some people. And no one should undertake a life-long aspirin regimen without medical consultation. But cancer is also a life-threatening disease. The treatments for cancer are incredibly toxic, especially when compared to aspirin.
If aspirin reduces the risk of developing skin cancer (and in particular melanoma), breast cancer, colon cancer, rectal cancer, liver cancer, lung cancer, esophageal cancer, stomach cancer and goodness knows what other cancers, then we think it deserves serious consideration as a miracle medicine.
For our *FREE* guide to Key Aspirin Information click here.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.”.
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