Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Can aspirin protect you from cancer?

Laurence Altshuler, MD,
blog clinician aspirin

Several studies over the past few years indicate that aspirin may help prevent many types of cancer, including colon, breast, liver, pancreatic and prostate. In addition, many studies show that if you already have cancer, aspirin may slow its growth, as well as prevent it from spreading or recurring.

A study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that aspirin users were 16 percent less likely to die from cancer than non-users. A 2011 study published in The Lancet showed that taking aspirin daily decreases mortality from solid tumor cancers, with the greatest benefit occurring after only five years.

The most recent study, published in August in the Annals of Oncology, found that colorectal cancer rates decreased by 35 percent and death rates by 40 percent with aspirin use. At the same time, rates of esophageal and stomach cancers were reduced by 30 percent and deaths from these cancers fell by 35-50 percent.

As with the 2011 Lancet study, the benefit of taking aspirin was not apparent for three years. Similarly, a reduction in mortality rates was seen after only five years, especially among patients between the ages of 50 and 65. The same researchers involved in the 2014 study previously published results of a 2007 study finding that aspirin protected against colorectal and other cancers. At the time, the researchers said it was premature to recommend routine aspirin use in the general population.

Why does aspirin seem to be effective in preventing cancer and, in patients with the disease, from preventing it from spreading? Several studies suggest that chronic inflammation may predispose the body to chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer. Since aspirin is an anti-inflammatory medication, the hypothesis makes sense.

Of course, aspirin is not without potential harm. It can increase the risk of stomach bleeding by about 3.6 percent, especially among elderly patients, according to the Annals study.  It can also cause side effects such as tinnitus, or ringing in the ears. However, studies suggest that taking a baby aspirin of 81 milligrams is less harmful than taking a full-dose aspirin of 325 milligrams.

So, should you take aspirin? Although the Annals study showed the greatest benefit among people who are 50-65 years old, which is generally when cancer is diagnosed, taking aspirin still is not recommended for the general population. It is recommended if you have cardiovascular disease, so you may get the double benefit of cancer prevention. Otherwise, consult with your doctor before beginning any aspirin regimen.