Taking aspirin could cut cancer patient deaths by 20 per cent, study finds

TAKING aspirin could cut cancer patient’s death risk by a fifth, major research has found.

Scientists say “serious consideration” should be given to using the common drug alongside usual therapies for the disease.

The drug – commonly used as pain relief – could help those with a wide range of cancers, including breast, prostate and colon.

Not only was it shown to reduce the odds of death, but stop cancer spreading further. 

British researchers aspirin has “biological mechanisms” that help reduce mortality risk.

Lead author Professor Peter Elwood said: “Overall, we found that at any time after a diagnosis of cancer, about 20 per cent more of the patients who took aspirin were alive, compared with patients not taking aspirin.

“Our research suggests that not only does aspirin help to cut risk of death, but it has also been shown to reduce the spread of cancer within the body – so-called metastatic spread.”

Prof Elwood, an honorary professor at Cardiff University who has studied the effects of aspirin for more than 50 years, added: “There is now a considerable body of evidence to suggest a significant reduction in mortality in patients with cancer who take aspirin.

“And that benefit appears to not be restricted to one or a few cancers.

“Aspirin therefore appears to deserve serious consideration as an adjuvant treatment of cancer and patients with cancer and their carers should be informed of the available evidence.

“However, we must also stress that aspirin is not a possible alternative to any other treatment.”

Growing evidence

As part of their study, the researchers reviewed 118 studies, publishing their findings the open-access journal eCancermedicalscience.

In total they included 250,000 patients with 18 different cancers.

They also considered the risks of aspirin-taking, including that it can cause internal bleeding.

A small number of patients studied had experienced a bleed, but there was no evidence it had caused any deaths, the review found.

Aspirin, also used by millions to prevent heart attack and stroke, has been investigated for preventing cancer and its spread for years.

But Cancer Research UK says it's too early to say whether people with cancer, or at risk of it, should start taking it.

Another review of studies in 2018 said aspirins may work for colon, breast and prostate cancers.

But more evidence is needed on the best dose of asprin in cancer patients, as it varied greatly between studies.

Some research studies show that people who take aspirin regularly, for three years or more, are less likely to get cancer of the bowel, oesophagus and stomach.

There is also some weaker evidence of reduced risk of breast, prostate and lung cancers.

Because aspirin has some serious potential harms, it must be weighed against the benefits before being dolled out.

Take part

Dr Mangesh Thorat, honorary senior lecturer, Centre for Cancer Prevention at Queen Mary University of London, said the type of studies included in the latest review are most reliable.

She said: “It is randomised trials that provide definitive evidence to consider changes to clinical practice.

“Until results from major trials become available, cancer patients should not rush to take aspirin, but should certainly discuss trial participation with their treating clinicians."

Dr Thorat said scientists are aware of aspirin's potential in cancer patients.

“Therefore several randomised trials in patients with certain cancers are already underway worldwide including a very large multinational trial called ADD-Aspirin here in the UK,” she said.

“The results of this review provide impetus for cancer patients to consider participation in these trials.” 

Professor Elwood said there are currently more than 1,000 clinical trials on aspirin reported each year.

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Results from these studies may offer further clear evidence on the effects of the medicine on cancer.

He said: “Further research into aspirin and cancer would clearly be of great value, and new studies should be encouraged, especially if focused on some of the less common cancers.”

The largest clinical trial investigating aspirin as an additional cancer treatment is the ADD-Aspirin trial, recruiting 11,000 people and running until 2023.

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