The People's Perspective on Medicine

How Good Is Aspirin Against Cancer in New Study?

Do you take aspirin for granted? It's one of the cheapest drugs in the drugstore. How effective is aspirin against cancer? You just might be surprised.

In 1993 we published a book with Tom Ferguson, MD, called The Aspirin Handbook (Bantam Books). In it we pointed out that there was an impressive amount of research supporting the beneficial effects of aspirin against cancer. We wrote: “You can talk about heart attack and stroke prevention until you are blue in the face, but if you really want to catch someone’s attention all you have to do is whisper that aspirin can prevent cancer.”

The Unenthusiastic Reaction to Aspirin Against Cancer:

Sadly, we were wrong. Not about aspirin against cancer. Over the last three decades the data keep accumulating that aspirin has impressive anticancer activity. What disappoints us is that in general, health professionals have ignored the vast amount of research suggesting that aspirin can both prevent cancer as well as reduce the likelihood of its spread. More about the history of aspirin against cancer in a moment. First, though, the latest research!

Aspirin Against Cancer of the Liver:

One important complication of hepatitis B is liver cancer. Now, researchers report that aspirin, a drug that is more than a century old, can significantly lower the risk of liver cancer. By the way, lest you think that isn’t a big deal, the lead investigator points out that:

“Liver cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death worldwide”

The investigators utilized medical records from the national Health Insurance Research Database of Taipei. There were more than 200,000 people with hepatitis B between 1998 and 2012, and 1,553 had received daily aspirin for at least 90 days during that time.

Their records were matched to those of 6,212 patients who had not taken aspirin or other anti-platelet drugs. Those on aspirin were much less likely to develop liver cancer. Their rate of hepatocellular carcinoma was 2.86 percent, compared to 5.59 percent for other hepatitis B patients. The risk of cancer was cut nearly in half for people taking aspirin (Hepatology, Oct. 2017).

[Presented at The Liver Meeting, Washington, DC, Oct. 23, 2017]

The History of Aspirin Against Cancer:

This is not the first time aspirin has demonstrated anti-cancer activity. Other studies have revealed that aspirin lowers the risk of cancers of the colon, rectum, esophagus, stomach, breast, lungs, pancreas and ovaries.

In 1993 we wrote this:

“Researchers have known for over a decade that aspirin and other non steroidal-anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) could block the growth of cancer in rodents. These tumors were caused by administering artificial carcinogens. The animals were also being given an NSAID. When the NSAID was stopped, the anticancer protection disappeared.

“By 1998 there were epidemiological data that suggested aspirin could reduce colon and rectal cancer in humans, but because the work was carried out in Melbourne, Australia, it did not receive much attention in the United States (Cancer Research, Aug. 1, 1988). Finally, in 1991, a report in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (March 6, 1991) that regular use of aspirin could reduce colorectal cancer by 50 percent got public recognition.

“But it takes the seal of approval from the New England Journal of Medicine to really focus the attention of the medical profession and the media. That happened December 5, 1991, when Dr. Michael Thun and his colleagues at the American Cancer Society also reported a 40 to 50 percent reduction in fatal colon cancer.

“In 1992 epidemiologists for the American Cancer Society reported that men and women who ate fruits, vegetables, and high-fiber foods and also took at least 16 aspirin tablets a month could have a major impact on colon cancer (2.5 to 2.9 times less cancer). Their research was published in The Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Oct. 7, 1992. An additional study [in 1992] confirmed that as little as one regular aspirin tablet a week could reduce colon cancer by 50 percent while daily aspirin ‘cut the risk by 63 percent.’ Now that’s impressive!”

Aspirin Against Cancer Since 1992:

Over the last 25 years there have been hundreds, perhaps thousands, of journal articles about aspirin against cancer. A review in Lancet Oncology (Aug., 2017) titled “Preventive Therapy for Cancer” noted:

“Therapeutic cancer prevention is a developing area that can gain a lot from the successes in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases. Although weight control and physical activity are important in the prevention of both diseases, several other preventive measures exist. Low-dose aspirin for cancer prevention is often cited as the most important approach in terms of population benefit, and should be offered to those older than 50 years of age without hypertension or risk factors for gastrointestinal bleeding.”

The Downsides of Aspirin:

Like all NSAIDs, aspirin can be hard on the digestive tract. Even low-dose enteric-coated aspirin can cause ulcers. Some people develop life-threatening bleeding ulcers or perforations. That is why anyone who plans to take aspirin regularly must do so under medical supervision. This is not a do-it-yourself proposition!

Aspirin can also interact dangerously with other medicines. Both a physician and pharmacist should make sure that aspirin will not cause more harm than good or interact with other drugs you may be taking.

That said, we have long maintained that “aspirin in the Rodney Dangerfield of the drug world.” Rodney was an amazing actor and comedian who long maintained that:

“I don’t get no respect!”

We have a free Guide to Key Aspirin Information available at this link. It is a bit old, but there is still interesting information and it is free!

Share your own aspirin story in the comment section below.

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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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I remember hearing a talk in the late ’90s about breast cancer’s possible prevention from a research team who talked about the aspirin blood thinning function being key. The theory was that aspirin thinned the blood sufficiently that metastasizing cells breaking away from the original tumor site to move to distant sites in the body were more visible to the immune system and were therefore stopped in the bloodstream before they could spread.

I have chronic kidney disease and I’ve been told no more NSAIDS. Have you done any research on warfarin or statins?

Coated aspirin protects the gut, but it does not effect the anticoagulant activities of aspirin. So if you fall, that black and blue spot will be much larger and much more painful than if you were not taking aspirin. If you get a cut, it continues to bleed much longer too.

And the anticoagulant effect lasts more than a week after you stop taking aspirin.

Joe, in all fairness you should add a link to last week’s article where you point out that if an individual has started taking 81 mg of aspirin daily to prevent strokes, he is at risk of coronary attacks if he stops. Once he starts, he’s committed to taking this drug for the rest of his life.

(I guess I’m committed.)

How about other blood thinners, such as those given for Atrial Fibulation. Do they have any of the positive effects that aspirin does?

So far as we know, aspirin is unique with respect to non-cardiovascular benefits.

It’s inexpensive and affordable, which makes me wonder if doctors an pharmaceutical companies have too many close ties.

I have been taking a daily regular aspirin for over 40 years. I developed very early stage endometrial cancer last year. My oncologist felt that my early detection was likely due to my daily use of aspirin.

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