US researchers found that women who took the drug regularly had less than half the usual risk of developing non-small cell lung cancer – the most common form of the disease.
The results raise hopes that aspirin may have even wider health benefits than previously thought. Experts believe that in the future, taking the drug could become an important way of protecting against a number of common cancers, although they acknowledge the need for further studies into the drug’s long-term effects.
Researchers questioned over 14,000 women in New York about their long-term history of aspirin use. They compared 81 women who subsequently went on to develop lung cancer with 808 who remained healthy and attempted to relate aspirin usage to the chances of developing the disease.
By far the biggest risk factor for lung cancer was smoking history. But once researchers had taken this into account, they found that those who had taken aspirin regularly were substantially less likely to develop the disease.
For women who had taken the painkiller three or more times a week for at least six months, the risk of developing any type of lung cancer was reduced by a third compared with non-users. The reduction in risk was even clearer for non-small cell lung cancer, which accounts for about three quarters of cases. Regular aspirin users were less than half as likely to develop this form of lung cancer as non-users.
Lead author Dr Arslan Akhmedkhanov, of New York University School of Medicine, says: “Not smoking is by far the best way to avoid lung cancer, but our study suggests that regular aspirin use could also confer some degree of protection against the disease. We need larger-scale research to confirm the results of this study, but it’s certainly consistent with other evidence for the health benefits of the drug.”
Cancer Research UK scientists in Bristol and Nottingham are currently conducting large-scale clinical trials to test whether aspirin, alongside other agents, can reduce the risk of bowel cancer among people at increased risk of the disease. There’s also evidence that the drug may have a protective effect against oesophageal cancer.
Scientists don’t know exactly why aspirin seems to protect against some cancers, but it may be that the drug’s anti-inflammatory effects are responsible. There is increasing evidence that molecules involved in the body’s inflammatory response may also contribute to the development of the disease.
Prof Gordon McVie, Director General of Cancer Research UK, which owns the British Journal of Cancer, comments: “Aspirin is a remarkable drug with a wide range of health benefits, and this is the latest evidence to suggest that it could become a useful weapon against cancer.
“But as much as these results are encouraging, people shouldn’t fool themselves into thinking that taking aspirin somehow counteracts the dangers of smoking. Everything else pales into insignificance compared with the lethal effects of tobacco.”
- British Journal of Cancer87 (1)
Note to Editors:
People should take medical advice before starting to take aspirin regularly.