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Low dose aspirin cuts cancer risk, study finds

Dec. 7, 2010
Courtesy of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine
and World Science staff

Reg­u­lar, low doses of as­pi­rin re­duce the oc­cur­rence of sev­er­al com­mon can­cers, ac­cord­ing to a study pub­lished in the Dec. 6 is­sue of the med­i­cal jour­nal The Lan­cet.

But its au­thors cau­tioned that not eve­ry­one should take as­pi­rin, as it can boost the risk of se­ri­ous bleed­ing.

“These are very ex­cit­ing and po­ten­tially im­por­tant find­ings. They are likely to al­ter clin­i­cal and pub­lic health ad­vice about low dose as­pi­rin be­cause the bal­ance be­tween ben­e­fit and bleed­ing has probably been al­tered to­wards us­ing it,” said re­search­er Tom Meade of the Lon­don School of Hy­giene & Trop­i­cal Med­i­cine, who con­tri­but­ed to the stu­dy.

Health pro­fes­sion­als and oth­ers will have to con­sid­er the prac­ti­cal im­plica­t­ions of the stu­dy, he added.

The work, led by Pe­ter Roth­well of Ox­ford Uni­vers­ity, is based on an over­view of sev­er­al ran­domised tri­als of as­pi­rin. These have been pri­marily con­cerned with re­duc­ing heart at­tacks, but have al­so gath­ered in­forma­t­ion on deaths from can­cer. The tri­al con­tri­but­ing most in­forma­t­ion to the over­view was the Throm­bo­sis Pre­ven­tion Tri­al, car­ried out by Meade, who was then with the U.K. Med­i­cal Re­search Coun­cil.

The study con­firmed that low dose as­pi­rin re­duces large bow­el can­cer cases as re­ported in an­oth­er re­cent study al­so led by Roth­well, the re­search­ers re­ported. Low-dose as­pi­rin was al­so found to re­duce to­tal deaths due to can­cer by af­fect­ing sev­er­al com­mon can­cers, such as those of the esoph­a­gus or gul­let, lung, stom­ach, pan­cre­as and pos­sibly the brain. Re­duc­tions in deaths are around 20 to 30 per­cent, the in­ves­ti­ga­tors said.

As­pi­rin doses low­er than 75 mg daily and tak­en for at least five years were as­so­ci­at­ed with the ben­e­fit, they added.

Hith­er­to, ad­vice about as­pi­rin has been mainly con­cerned with re­duc­ing heart at­tacks and strokes in those who have al­ready had them. Those who don’t have these con­di­tions should ex­er­cise cau­tion, the re­search­ers said.


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Regular, low doses of aspirin reduce the occurrence of several common cancers, according to a study published in the Dec. 6 issue of the medical journal The Lancet. But its authors cautioned that not everyone should take aspirin, as it can boost the risk of serious bleeding. “These are very exciting and potentially important findings. They are likely to alter clinical and public health advice about low dose aspirin because the balance between benefit and bleeding has probably been altered towards using it,” said researcher Tom Meade of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, who contributed to the study. Health professionals and others will have to consider the practical implications of the study, he said. The work, led by Peter Rothwell of Oxford University, is based on an overview of several randomised trials of aspirin. These have been primarily concerned with reducing heart attacks, but have also gathered information on deaths from cancer. The trial contributing most information to the overview was the Thrombosis Prevention Trial, carried out by Meade, who was then with the U.K. Medical Research Council. The study confirmed that low dose aspirin reduces large bowel cancer cases as reported in another recent study also led by Rothwell, the researchers reported. Low-dose aspirin was also found to reduce total deaths due to cancer by affecting several common cancers, such as those of the esophagus or gullet, lung, stomach, pancreas and possibly the brain. Reductions in deaths are around 20 to 30%, the investigators said. Aspirin doses lower than 75 mg and taken for at least five years were associated with the benefit, they added. Hitherto, advice about aspirin has been mainly concerned with reducing heart attacks and strokes in those who have already had them. Those who don’t have these conditions should exercise caution, the researchers said.