Aspirin ‘doubled the survival rate of cancer patients’

Aspirin is already known to raise survival rates for bowel cancer. Now a study carried out by researchers at Leiden University Medical Centre offers strong evidence that it can have a powerful effect on other common cancers too.

In patients with tumours in their gastrointestinal tract the researchers found that aspirin increased survival rates significantly.

The study, which involved 14,000 patients, cross compared gastrointestinal cancer survival data with records of the drugs taken by those patients.

The researchers found that patients who used aspirin after their diagnosis were twice as likely to survive cancer as those who didn’t over a four-year period. The results were adjusted to account for factors such as sex, and age and other medical conditions.

The trial’s co-ordinator, Martine Frouws, says that crucially the drug is cheap and easily available.

‘Medical research is focusing more and more on personalised medicine, but many personalised treatments are expensive and only useful in small populations. We believe that our research shows quite the opposite — it demonstrates the considerable benefit of a cheap, well-established and easily obtainable drug in a larger group of patients, while still targeting the treatment to a specific individual.’

Professor Nadir Arber, a spokesman for the European Society for Medical Oncology, says the drug has other uses too:

‘Aspirin may serve as the magic bullet because it can target and prevent ischaemic heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, the three major health catastrophes in the third millennium.’

‘Dr Frouws and her colleagues tell us that not only can aspirin prevent disease, but low-dose aspirin is important as an adjunct therapy for gastrointestinal cancers. The appropriate dosage and duration of aspirin use and risk/benefit ratios of aspirin use remain to be determined but, in the area of precision medicine, genetic information and blood and/or urinary biomarkers may help in tailoring treatment to those who will benefit most, while limiting adverse effects.’

Dr Nick Summerton, GP and Spectator Health contributor, says people should speak to a doctor before taking aspirin regularly, as side effects can be serious.

‘It is important to take into account the potential downsides of aspirin. Some individuals are more likely to bleed from their stomach or to develop allergic reactions.

‘So if people wish to take regular aspirin they should not just focus on their cancer risks — but also weigh up all the pros and cons in the context of, perhaps, an informed discussion with their own GP.’