Two aspirin pills a day may keep the oncologist away, according to a study spanning more than a decade published today in The Lancet medical journal.
Participants who took 600 milligrams of the common painkiller daily for at least two years had a 63 percent lower rate of colorectal cancer than those who took a placebo, according to the study led by John Burn, a professor of clinical genetics at Newcastle University in England. The participants all were carriers of Lynch Syndrome, a genetic condition that predisposes a person to developing certain cancers.
While aspirin’s effect on cancer risk has been observed as a secondary finding in previous studies, Burn’s research is the first designed specifically to observe that impact. Similar results were found for endometrial and uterine tumors, also stemming from Lynch syndrome, Burn said.
“This adds to the growing body of evidence showing the importance of aspirin and aspirin-like drugs in the fight against cancer,” Chris Paraskeva, a professor of experimental oncology at the University of Bristol in England, said in a statement.
Among about 500 study participants who took aspirin for at least two years between 1999 and 2005, 10 developed colorectal cancer by 2010, compared with 23 who took a placebo, the researchers found. That represented a 63 percent lower incidence of the disease.
“What surprised us was that there was no difference in the number of people developing polyps, which are thought to be the precursors of cancer,” said Tim Bishop, a professor of genetic epidemiology at the University of Leeds, who led the statistical analysis of the data. “But many fewer patients who had been taking aspirin years before went on to develop cancers.”
Thirty-eight people in the study developed tumors at sites other than the bowel, 16 of whom took aspirin, the researchers said. Five people in the aspirin group developed endometrial cancer, a malignancy in the lining of the womb, compared with 13 in the placebo group, they said.
A follow-up study will compare the effects of different doses of aspirin in people with Lynch syndrome.
The drug has also been shown to reduce the risk of strokes and heart attacks. Side effects of taking aspirin include ulcers and internal bleeding in the stomach.
“I’d rather have that than cancer or a heart attack,” Burn told reporters at a news conference in London yesterday.
Funders of the study include aspirin inventor Bayer AG, the European Union, Cancer Research UK and the U.K. Medical Research Council.
-- Editors: Kristen Hallam, Robert Valpuesta