A few months ago, I did a serious piece with a jokey title: if you’ve got cancer, take an aspirin. Salicylic acid, to give aspirin its posh name, can have pronounced anti-cancer effects.
Now the same message has come around again. A study published online August 10, 2012, in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, also showed that aspirin puts the brake on cancers.
We are not talking chemo-strength, or 100% protection, understand, but there is a measurable effect.
The study was prompted because an analysis pooling results from existing randomized trials of daily aspirin (for heart and circulation benefits) found an estimated 37% reduction in cancer mortality among those using aspirin for 5 years or more [Lancet. 2012;379:1602–1612].
Against this, however, two very large randomized trials of aspirin taken every other day found no effect on overall cancer mortality.
So for this study, researchers pooled data from 100,139 predominantly elderly participants in the Cancer Prevention Study II Nutrition Cohort who reported using aspirin on questionnaires.
The study was published online August 10, 2012, in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
The participants, who did not have cancer at the start of the study, were followed for up to 11 years.
The researchers found that daily aspirin use was associated with an estimated 16% lower overall risk for cancer mortality, both among people who reported taking aspirin daily for at least 5 years and among those who reported shorter-term daily use.
So something is going on.
Part of the result was driven by a decrease of about 40% for cancers of the gastrointestinal tract (such as esophageal, stomach, and colorectal cancer) and a decrease of about 12% for cancers outside the gastrointestinal tract.
But there was more to it than that. Maybe people destined to get heart attacks don’t tend to get cancer. That’s never been suggested before. I know no evidence for such an effect. Just thinking out loud…
Of course, aspirin may give genuine protection against cancer, as in the first study. The effect isn’t strong enough for doctors to start recommending aspirin as a cancer preventive. That’s good, since cancer isn’t a salicylate deficiency.
Eating right, exercise, state of mind, clean environment and other lifestyle matters are the only proven cancer preventatives.
Plus: the dangers of taking aspirin haven’t gone away. Even low-dose aspirin can substantially increase the risk of serious gastrointestinal bleeding.
And one other caution: this study was organized by the American Cancer Society, who are about as trustworthy with data as rats are in a corn store. However, I do not impugn Dr. Jacobs MD, who led the research.
In an editorial accompanying the published study, John A. Baron, MD, from the University of North Carolina School of Medicine in Chapel Hill, wrote that, “The drug clearly reduces the incidence and mortality from luminal gastrointestinal cancers, and it may similarly affect other cancers. This is exciting: simply taking a pill can prevent cancer incidence and cancer death.”
Dr. Jacobs has disclosed no relevant financial relationships. Dr. Baron reports being a consultant to Bayer, and holding a use patent for the chemopreventative use of aspirin, currently not licensed.
Hmmm. No wonder Jacobs likes the idea of a pill (his pill) against cancer.
[J Natl Cancer Inst. Published online August 10, 2012]