Who knew that aspirin was such a powerhouse? For quite some time, aspirin has been used to lessen the risk of heart attack and stroke, both in patients who have had previous issues and in those at risk. But now a new study shows it may have equally powerful possibilities in the treatment of diagnosed cancers, including breast cancer.
This comes from an analysis of 71 studies that was published in September in the journal PLOS One.
Aspirin is another name for acetylsalicylic acid; it is also called an analgesic. “Aspirin” was the original brand name held by Bayer. It has long been the standard for pain relief, with the earliest known uses tracing back to the Greek physician Hippocrates in the fifth century BC. Rather than a convenient pill, however, Hippocrates’ patients were receiving a powder taken from the bark of willow trees.
Aspirin remains one of the most widely used medications in the world. It is estimated that around 35,000 metric tons of aspirin is consumed annually.
Beyond relieving pain, aspirin in low doses reduces the formation of blood clots, which has been valuable for preventing stroke and heart attacks in people with cardiovascular disease. It has also been given to patients with risk factors for heart attack and stroke.
Now it appears, aspirin could add cancer treatment to its long list of duties.
The Cochrane Institute of Primary Care and Public Health at Cardiff University in the United Kingdom analyzed the studies. Peter Elwood was the lead author of the analysis, and he explains the goal of the research.
“The use of low-dose aspirin as a preventive in heart disease, stroke, and cancer is well established, but evidence is now emerging that the drug may have a valuable role as an additional treatment for cancer, too,” he writes.
The analysis looked at 71 studies, which totaled over 120,000 people who had been diagnosed with cancer and started taking aspirin in addition to their other cancer treatment. Reviewers assessed the eligibility of the studies and examined the number of cancer-related deaths, the incidence of metastases, and the mortality from other causes among people in the aspirin-taking group.
The researchers then compared these data with those of approximately 400,000 who did not take aspirin during their cancer treatment.
Of the 71 studies used, 29 examined cases of colorectal cancer, 14 studies focused on breast cancer, and 16 focused on prostate cancer.
Aspirin proved to be a powerful drug for treatment. The analysis revealed that the chances of surviving a cancer diagnosis were 20-30 percent greater among people who took aspirin compared with those who did not. Their specific findings showed that aspirin seems to reduce the risk of dying from colon cancer by 25 percent, from breast cancer by 20 percent, and from prostate cancer by 15 percent.
Should it be a treatment option?
With these results, the analysis then wonders if aspirin needs to be added to treatments. Elwood writes, “Findings merit wide discussion regarding whether or not it is adequate to justify the recommendation of low-dose therapeutic aspirin in the treatment of cancer.”
The analysis also proposes that it may be time to educate patients as to the potential benefits. Elwood writes, “Patients with cancer should be given the evidence now available and be helped to make their own judgment of the balance between the risks and the benefits of daily low dose.”
The analysis ends by saying that further studies on the effects of aspirin on cancer treatment need to begin immediately and that patients should be strongly encouraged to participate.