New aspirin findings ‘change the equation’ over treating cancer
IN another of a series of papers, Prof Rothwell and fellow researchers found aspirin reduced the chances of cancer spreading instead of staying in one place by almost half.
The spread, or metastasis, of tumours to organs such as the liver and brain is usually what kills cancer patients.
Many people take a low, 75 milligram dose of aspirin each day to guard against heart attacks and strokes.
Experts have advised against this for “healthy” individuals at no special risk of heart and artery disease because of the possible long-term side effects. The drug, which prevents blood clotting, can increase the likelihood of internal bleeding in the stomach, intestines and brain.
In some cases, such as pregnant women at risk of high blood pressure, the benefits are said to outweigh the risks. However, to date cancer has not been part of this calculation.
Prof Rothwell said: “It’s certainly time to add prevention of cancer into the analysis of the balance of risk and benefits of aspirin. This research really shows the cancer benefit is as large, if not larger, than the benefit in terms of preventing heart attacks and strokes. It does change the equation quite drastically.”
Professor Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician, said: “This is an exciting development.”
In one of the studies, Prof Rothwell’s team found that taking daily low-dose aspirin reduced the risk of cancer death by 15 per cent overall compared with not taking the drug. For patients taking aspirin for five years or more, this figure increased to 37 per cent.
Prof Rothwell said: “The benefits of daily aspirin in reducing the long-term risk of developing new cancers and in reducing the spread of existing cancers that have not yet presented are larger in absolute terms than the benefits in preventing heart disease and stroke.”
The second study focused on aspirin’s impact on cancer spread. Over an average period of 6.5 years, taking low-dose aspirin every day was found to reduce the overall risk of distant-spreading cancer by 36 per cent.
For common solid cancers, including bowel, lung and prostate, the risk was reduced by 46 per cent and for bladder, kidney and some other solid cancers by 18 per cent. For patients initially diagnosed with a local cancer, the risk of later metastasis was reduced by 55 per cent.
Prof Rothwell commented: “It opens up a completely new therapeutic area.”
Dr Kate Holmes, head of research management at The Prostate Cancer Charity, said: “This latest research is an important addition to the growing body of evidence looking at whether aspirin could have a positive health benefit in relation to prostate cancer.”
Two American experts, commenting in The Lancet, pointed out limitations to the research.
But Dr Andrew Chan and Dr Nancy Cook concluded: “Rothwell and colleagues show quite convincingly that aspirin seems to reduce cancer incidence and death.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We actively consider all new research relating to cancer prevention and will be interested to see the detailed findings of this study.”
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