A new study offers further evidence of the anticancer effects of aspirin, after finding that regular use of the drug could help to lower the risk of liver cancer.

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Researchers say that daily aspirin therapy could reduce liver cancer risk for hepatitis B patients.

Researchers from Taiwan found that individuals with hepatitis B — a known risk factor for liver cancer — were less likely to develop liver cancer if they received daily aspirin therapy.

Lead investigator Dr. Teng‐Yu Lee — of the Department of Gastroenterology at Taichung Veterans General Hospital in Taiwan — and colleagues recently reported their findings at The Liver Meeting 2017, held by the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases in Washington, D.C.

Hepatitis B is a liver infection caused by hepatitis B virus (HBV). It is estimated to affect around 257 million people across the globe, and in 2015, the infection was responsible for around 887,000 deaths worldwide.

In the United States, it is estimated that between 850,000 and 2.2 million people have chronic hepatitis B.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 15–25 percent of those with chronic hepatitis B go on to develop severe liver conditions, such as liver cirrhosis or liver cancer. Each year, around 1,800 people in the U.S. die from HBV-related liver diseases.

There are antiviral therapies that can help to reduce liver cancer risk in people with hepatitis B, but Dr. Lee and team note that these medications do not fully eradicate the risk.

What is more, they note that some people infected with HBV are not deemed suitable candidates for antiviral medications, so there is a need for alternative therapies that can reduce the risk of liver cancer for these patients.

Previous studies have indicated that aspirin can help to lower cancer risk, but few studies have investigated the effects of this drug against liver cancer.

“Therefore,” says Dr. Lee, “we conducted a large-scale cohort study to evaluate the association of aspirin therapy with HBV‐related liver cancer.”

To reach their findings, the researchers used the 1998–2012 National Health Insurance Research Database to analyze the medical records of 204,507 patients with chronic hepatitis B.

The team identified 1,553 patients who had received daily aspirin therapy for at least 90 days and who were free of liver cancer prior to treatment initiation. These patients were matched 1:4 with 6,212 others, none of whom had ever received any form of anti-platelet therapy.

The researchers then looked at the cumulative incidence of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) — the most common form of liver cancer — among participants over a period of 5 years, as well as their overall risk of developing liver cancer.

Among patients who received daily aspirin therapy, the study revealed that cumulative HCC incidence was much lower compared with the untreated patients, with incident rates of 2.86 percent and 5.59 percent, respectively.

The risk of HCC development over 5 years was found to be 37 percent lower for patients who received daily aspirin therapy, the team reports, compared with the untreated patients.

Further research is required to confirm the benefits of aspirin therapy for patients with hepatitis B, but Dr. Lee and team believe that their findings show promise.

For effectively preventing HBV-related liver cancer, the findings of this study may help hepatologists treat patients with chronic HBV infection in the future, particularly for those who are not indicated for antiviral therapy.”

Dr. Teng‐Yu Lee

“We are pursuing prospective investigations for further confirming the findings,” he concludes.