Understand how we got here — and how to move forward.


August 13, 2012

Can an aspirin a day keep cancer at bay?

Daily Briefing

    A new report suggests that taking aspirin daily can help prevent cancer, although some experts caution that the drug may cause more harm than good.

    The Journal of the National Cancer Institute report says individuals who took daily aspirin had a 16% lower risk of dying from cancer as opposed to those who did not take aspirin. The report uses a decade's worth of data collected from more than 1,000 non-smoking men and women with no history of cancer.

    Among patients taking adult or baby aspirin on a daily basis:

    • Men experienced 103 fewer cancer deaths a year per 100,000 patients; and
    • Women experienced 42 fewer cancer deaths a year.

    The positive effects of daily aspirin use were most strongly seen in curbing gastrointestinal cancers, such as colon cancer and stomach cancer, the study says.

    Although encouraging, a Lancet article published earlier this year said a review of three studies revealed that patients taking aspirin were 37% less likely to die from cancer than those who did not take the medication.

    "News about the cancer potential of aspirin use has been really encouraging lately," lead author Michael Thun says, but "it is still a work in progress."

    Thun says medical guidelines regarding daily aspirin use should include cancer prevention based on an individual risk-benefit assessment. Some health experts are wary to promote guideline changes as the latest report does not represent a clinical trial; the researchers' results could be attributed to other factors.

    However, taking aspirin on a daily basis can lead to unwanted and dangerous side effects like stomach bleeding, according to Kausik Ray of St. George's University of London. Ray also argues that these side effects may skew the study’s results because of "detection bias"; a physician may find cancerous tumors or pre-cancerous polyps in a patient with stomach bleeds and remove them. As a result, the aspirin's negative effects may lead to the patient's life being prolonged, but Kausik cautions against attributing aspirin's use to cancer prevention (Thun et al., JNCI, 6/14; Kausik et al., JAMA, 2/13; Joelving, Reuters, 8/12).

    More from today's Daily Briefing
    1. Current ArticleCan an aspirin a day keep cancer at bay?

    Have a Question?


    Ask our experts a question on any topic in health care by visiting our member portal, AskAdvisory.