In December 2010, the BMJ Publishing Group connected a daily aspirin to cancer prevention. Really? Conflicting studies fail to prove conclusively the aspirin-cancer connection but highlight something else. This “something” might just save your life.
Cancer Prevention with a Daily Aspirin
The patient who commits to taking a daily aspirin for at least five years can cut the risk of cancer death. According to the publishing group’s cited experts, aspirin targets primarily gastrointestinal cancers. Although this sounds like great news from the cancer prevention front, it is noteworthy that there are some flaws associated with the aspirin and cancer connection.
First and foremost, cancer prevention researchers have not actually hosted a new long-term study but instead re-evaluated data from already existing trials. While the sum of cases is a respectable 25,570, it is also true that the findings are largely mathematical.
Consider that out of the 25,570 study subjects some 674 died from cancer. Separating the group into patients taking aspirin and those who do not, the death rate compared 10.2 percent to 11.1 percent in favor of aspirin-takers. When following up on study subjects, the latest news shows that in the span of 20 years, it benefits patients to continue taking aspirin because it is associated with an overall 3.49 percent lower cancer risk.
It is noteworthy that this latest study suggests that “higher doses of aspirin didn’t seem to have a bigger protective effect than lower doses.”
This last statement stands in direct opposition to a 2005 study that sought to test the effect of baby aspirin on cancer prevention with a simple dose containing 81 milligrams. The results were nil. A subsequent study upped the dose to an adult aspirin containing 325 milligrams of the active ingredient. It is here that researchers hit pay dirt and discovered a 15 percent overall cancer risk reduction.
Adding fuel to the fire is the UK’s 2009 MHRA notice that warns against the use of even low-dose aspirin in healthy individuals for the sake of heart attack prevention. Statistically speaking, the known side effect of suffering from gastrointestinal bleeding is sufficiently common to move the aspirin from a primary defense against cardiovascular disease to a secondary role that applies only to patients with known risk factors.
In short, healthy patients should refrain from taking even a low-dose aspirin; those who do so anyway may (or may not) receive a cancer prevention benefit. Go figure.
BMJ Publishing Group: “Daily Aspirin prevents cancer deaths”
MSNBC: “Can aspirin prevent cancer? Debate goes on”
MHRA: “Aspirin: no licensed for primary prevention of thrombotic vascular disease”