It has been hailed a “wonder drug” because of its numerous health benefits, and now, a new study provides further evidence that aspirin may help in the fight against cancer.

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Low-dose aspirin may prolong survival for cancer patients.

Published in the journal PLOS One, the study suggests that taking low doses of aspirin may increase survival for cancer patients by up to a fifth, as well as reduce the spread of the disease.

Aspirin is primarily used to treat pain, fever and inflammation, and it is also used as an anti-platelet medication, acclaimed as having the potential to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke for older adults at high risk.

In recent years, however, the drug has emerged as a promising tool for cancer prevention.

Earlier this year, Medical News Today reported on a study that found regular, low-dose aspirin use may lower the risk for colorectal cancer by 19%, while an earlier study claims daily aspirin use can lower the risk of ovarian cancer by 20%.

But Prof. Peter Elwood, of Cardiff University’s School of Medicine in the UK, and lead author of the new study, notes that the role aspirin plays in the treatment of cancer patients is unclear.

With this in mind, Prof. Elwood and his team conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of 42 observational studies and five randomized trials that included patients who had been diagnosed with either breast, colorectal or prostate cancer.

Fast facts about cancer
  • This year, more than 1.6 million new cancer cases are expected to be diagnosed in the US
  • It is estimated that almost 600,000 cancer deaths will occur in the US in 2016
  • Of these deaths, around 188,000 will be caused by cigarette smoking.

Learn more about cancer

The researchers found that cancer patients who took low-dose aspirin – in combination with other cancer treatment – showed a 15-20% increase in survival, compared with those who did not take low-dose aspirin.

What is more, they found low-dose aspirin use was associated with a reduction in the spread of cancer, or cancer metastasis.

The researchers also identified a reduction in cancer metastasis with aspirin use when looking at six studies of cancers other than colorectal, breast or prostate, but Prof. Elwood says the number of patients included in these studies was too low to “enable confident interpretation.”

While the authors were unable to pinpoint exactly how aspirin may benefit cancer patients, they identified a mutation in a gene called PIK3CA in around 20% of patients, which Prof. Elwood says appeared to explain a large majority of the reduction in cancer deaths among patients with colon cancer.

A well-established side effect with regular aspirin use is intestinal bleeding, but the researchers say no serious or life-threatening bleeding incidences were identified in any of the trials analyzed.

The authors say their findings indicate that low-dose aspirin use may benefit cancer patients, and further research should be conducted to confirm whether this is the case.

Prof. Elwood adds:

While there is a desperate need for more detailed research to verify our review and to obtain evidence on less common cancers, we’d urge patients diagnosed with cancer to speak to their doctor about our findings so they can make an informed decision as to whether or not they should take a low-dose aspirin as part of their cancer treatment.”

Earlier this month, MNT reported on a study in which researchers claim that the benefits outweigh the risks when it comes to regular aspirin use to lower the chance of cardiovascular disease and colorectal cancer.