1. Eastman, Peggy

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WASHINGTON, D.C.-Regular aspirin use over the long-term is linked to a reduced risk of death from several kinds of cancers, according to a large dataset from a new study presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research, held April 1-5. The study was supported by grants from the NIH.

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While it has been recognized that regular aspirin use lowers the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and certain cancers, especially colorectal cancer, the new data show that such use may play a role in reducing cancer mortality as well, explained lead author Yin Cao, MPH, ScD, an Instructor in the Medicine, Clinical and Translational Epidemiology Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston.


The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force currently recommends adults ages 50-69 take low-dose aspirin to prevent cardiovascular disease and colorectal cancer.


Aspirin & Lower Mortality

Cao and her colleagues wanted to examine the role of aspirin in cancer-specific mortality; they looked at aspirin use at a range of doses and duration of use. They studied 86,206 women who were enrolled in the Nurses' Health Study between 1980 and 2012, along with 43,977 men who were enrolled in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study from 1986 to 2012. Participants with a history of cancer, heart disease, or stroke were excluded. The researchers assessed aspirin use at baseline, and then every 2 years after that, with greater than 90 percent follow-up.


Over the 32 years of follow-up, 22,094 women and 14,749 men died. Of those who died, 8,271 women and 4,591 men died of cancer. Overall mortality risk was 7 percent lower for women and 11 percent lower for men who used aspirin regularly. Cancer-specific mortality was 7 percent lower for women and 15 percent lower for men who regularly used aspirin. Cao and her team observed benefits at aspirin dosages of at least 0.5-1.5 standard aspirin tablets per week for both men and women. The minimum duration of regular use that demonstrated lower cancer mortality was 6 years.


In this study, the strongest reduction in relative risk was for colorectal cancer: 31 percent for women and 30 percent for men who were regular aspirin users. In addition, women who took aspirin had an 11 percent lower risk of dying of breast cancer, and men who took aspirin had a 23 percent lower risk of dying of prostate cancer.


Benefits of Aspirin Use

The study helps confirm the growing body of data on the benefits of regular aspirin use, noted Cao. "These finding suggest that aspirin's established benefits in cardiovascular disease and colorectal cancer reduction may extend to other common causes of death, including several major cancers," she emphasized. But Cao cautioned that, while the study results support the long-term use of aspirin, patients and their physicians should consider all potential benefits and risks, as well as individual health profiles, when deciding whether to take aspirin regularly. For example, aspirin can cause gastrointestinal tract bleeding and hemorrhagic stroke.


The primary limitation of this study, which Cao readily pointed out, is that it is an observational study and, therefore, its results are less definitive than those from a randomized clinical trial.


Peggy Eastman is a contributing writer.


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