BETHESDA, Md. — Aspirin is commonly linked to better heart health, especially when a patient is having a heart attack. Now, one study finds that taking a few tablets each week may also be the key to surviving certain cancers. Researchers with the National Cancer Institute say taking aspirin at least three times a week can significantly cut the risk of dying from breast or bladder cancer.
“The results presented here add to the accumulating evidence that aspirin may improve survival for some cancers,” study author Dr. Holli Loomans-Kropp writes in JAMA Network Open.
“Although prior research has been most heavily concentrated in gastrointestinal cancers, our analysis extends the advantages associated with aspirin use to other cancers, such as bladder and breast cancers.”
Millions pop the over-the-counter “wonderpill” daily in the hopes it will protect against heart disease. Aspirin thins the blood, reducing the risk of blood clots. Its anti-inflammatory effects are also believed to reduce the risk of bowel cancer and some other forms of the disease.
Seriously increasing survival rates
Researchers examined nearly 140,000 men and women in a cancer screening trial which tracked patients for up to 13 years. Most of the study group were over 65 years-old or reached that age during the review. The team also asked participants about their usual aspirin intake.
Those with breast or bladder cancer who reported taking aspirin at least three times a week improved their survival rates by a quarter and a third, respectively. Moreover, any use of the drug at all reduced the risk of death from those diseases by 21 and 25 percent, respectively.
“Although aspirin use at least 3 times/week was associated with the strongest risk reduction, any aspirin use was associated with increased bladder and breast cancer survival,” study authors write. “These results may indicate that for some cancer types, any aspirin use may be advantageous; however, greater benefit may be observed with increased frequency of use.”
The study adds that experiments have suggested the drug combats inflammatory processes in breast and bladder cancers. Despite its benefits treating these forms of the disease, aspirin did not reduce the risk of patients developing, treating, or stopping four other forms — including esophageal, gastric, pancreatic, or uterine cancers.
Do older patients get the same benefits from aspirin?
Long-term aspirin use also has a connection to decreased risk of suffering from heart disease, stroke, gastrointestinal cancers, and premature death.
“Recent research suggests that aspirin use may offer protection against the development of and mortality from other cancer types as well,” the NCI team adds.
While the results are positive, the benefits and harms in older individuals is still being debated. One study suggests aspirin increases cancer mortality, but not incidence, in people over 65. During the study, over 32,500 cancers were diagnosed including 4,552 cases of breast cancer and 1,751 cases of bladder cancer.
“Many studies have evaluated the long-term benefits of aspirin use; however, the association of aspirin use with cancer incidence and survival in older individuals remains uncertain,” Dr. Loomans-Kropp’s team explains. “These findings suggest that aspirin use may improve bladder and breast cancer survival. However, although aspirin use may confer a cancer protective effect, it remains necessary to consider the harms, as well as the benefits, of long-term aspirin use.”
Taking aspirin can still come with risks
Researchers note the drug can cause dangerous stomach bleeds and the team is calling for further population-based evidence to shed light on aspirin’s potential protective effects.
The American Cancer Society estimates that over 43,000 women in the United States will die of breast cancer in 2021. Another 17,200 Americans are expected to die from bladder cancer; most of them will be men.
SWNS writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.