Research published in the prestigious medical journal, The Lancet, indicates that a regular dose of aspirin may not only stave off heart disease but also cut the risk of developing hereditary cancer in half.
The study, which tracked 1000 patients in 16 countries for more than four years, was conducted by researchers from Queens University and Newcastle University in the UK. They focused principally on people withLynch syndrome, an inherited genetic disorder that causes cancer by affecting genes responsible for detecting and repairing DNA damage.
Around 50% of those with Lynch syndrome develop cancer, and an estimated three of every 100 cases of colon cancer are caused by the syndrome. More than 600,000 people die of colorectal cancer worldwide every year, and it is the second leading cause of cancer death among men and women in the U.S.
The study looked at all cancers related to the syndrome–including colon, rectal, stomach, and endometrial–and found that almost 30% of the patients not taking aspirin (they took a starch-based placebo) had developed cancer compared to around 15% of those taking daily aspirin. For colorectal cancer, the risk reduction was 63%.
Interestingly, those who had taken aspirin still developed the same number of polyps as those who did not take aspirin. Polyps are abnormal tissue growths of the mucus membrane that are frequently identified as precursors of cancer. The difference for the aspirin takers is that their polyps did not go on to develop cancer, suggesting that aspirin could possibly be causing pre-cancerous cells to self-destruct before they turn cancerous.
A couple of items to note about the study. First, unlike the daily 80 mg aspirin regime recommended for those at risk of developing heart disease, patients in this study took 600 mg a day (in two 300 mg pills). That’s a large dose, and taking that much aspirin increases the risk of developing other problems related to degradation of stomach lining, like ulcers, and bleeding complications. Aspirin acts as a blood thinner, which makes it an effective anti-blood-clotting agent. But the dark side of this benefit is that too much aspirin can also prevent beneficial blood clotting, potentially increasing the risk of internal bleeding after an accident or during surgery.
Second, it should be mentioned that Bayer was one of the study’s sponsors. This is nothing new, as Bayer has been funding cancer research for many years as part of an expressed corporate mission to develop drugs to defeat the disease.
Previous observational studies have also suggested that aspirin could be an effective tool against cancer, but this is the first randomized study to test the hypothesis directly.