A NOVEL use for aspirin has recently been discovered in two long-term studies. Whilst aspirin is commonly used to treat or prevent cardiovascular disease, headaches, and arthritis, the new research suggests the drug could also be beneficial for colorectal cancer (CRC).
The US Preventative Services Task Force examined the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, which had a combined total of 135,965 participants. Participants of each study were followed for 30 and 26 years, respectively. Within these cohorts, a total of 20,414 cancers were observed in 88,084 women, and 7,571 cancers in 47,881 men.
The meta-analysis found an overall lower prevalence of cancers in those who took 0.5–1.5 standard aspirin tablets each week, with an indication of a dose-dependent response. The researchers also found that the risk of developing gastrointestinal (GI) cancers was reduced by 15%, and the risk of developing CRC decreased by 19%. The results showed no correlation between aspirin use and breast, prostate, lung, or other major cancers. These findings led the authors to suggest that aspirin may be involved in an aspect of the mechanisms that lead to the development of GI cancers.
Developing on these results, the researchers found that aspirin could be a potential addition to screening in people >50 years of age. For those who did not undergo screening procedures such as lower endoscopy, an estimated 17% of CRC cases were prevented; for those who were screened, an 8.5% reduction in CRC was observed. Regular aspirin use could therefore benefit those who are not compliant with screening.
The team concluded: “Aspirin may be a potential low-cost alternative to endoscopic CRC screening in resource-limited settings or a complement in settings in which such programmes are already implemented, including the general US population, in whom screening adherence remains suboptimal.”
The authors suggest that the benefits of aspirin should be carefully balanced against the potential risks. Dr Andrew Chan, Associate Professor of Medicine, Gastroenterology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, USA, stated: “At this point, it would be very reasonable for individuals to discuss with their physicians the advisability of taking aspirin to prevent GI cancer, particularly if they have risk factors such as a family history, but this should be done with the caveat that patients be well informed about the potential side effects of regular aspirin treatment and continue their regular screening tests.”