Aspirin is known to help thin blood, reduce fever, relieve minor aches and even reduce inflammation. Researchers are now thinking that the medication may be useful artillery in fighting a deadly disease.
A daily dose of low-dose aspirin may slow the progression of colon cancer in some patients, researchers suggest.
While they aren’t sure exactly how it works, as it only showed results in some patients, aspirin does seem to stop the cancer from spreading, according to researchers located in the Netherlands.
The study was led by Dr. Marlies Reimers of Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands. The study included 999 patients with colon cancer who had surgery for their cancer between 2002 and 2008.
Most of the patients had colon cancer stage III, so the cancer had spread outside the colon to one or more lymph nodes (glands found throughout the body that help fight infection). However, patients with any stage of cancer were included in the study.
The researchers obtained data from the Eindhoven Cancer Registry to identify those with colon cancer and found data on their aspirin use from Pharma Database Network.
Of the 999 patients, 465 had died. More patients died who had not taken aspirin: 48.5 percent of the group that were non-aspirin users died compared with 37.9 percent of aspirin users. Aspirin use after diagnosis (of 14 days or more) was associated with improved overall survival, the researchers found.
Those who took aspirin took a low-dose, which is usually 75mg to 300mg once a day.
The researchers found that patients with cells that expressed HLA-1 (human leukocyte antigen)—a protein encoded by certain genes that play a role in the immune system—were those that benefited from the aspirin use. Most of the patients in the study (66.8 percent) had cells that expressed HLA.
The researchers suggested that aspirin exerts its effect on circulating tumor cells and stops them from developing into metastatic deposits (metastases), so these patients are less likely to have their cancer spread.
The researchers wrote that with further research, people with colon cancer that secretes HLA may be those advised to take aspirin as part of their treatment.
This study appears in the March 31st edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
In the same issue, a commentary is written by Dr. Alfred Neugut of Mailman School of Public Health in Columbia, New York. He wrote that several observational studies have confirmed the therapeutic benefit of aspirin for people with colon cancer.
If he were diagnosed with colon cancer, he would have surgery and chemotherapy, as is recommended to most patients, Dr. Neugut writes. However, he would also want aspirin, and if he would take it, why shouldn’t he recommend it to his patients?
“In the setting of patients with stage III colon cancer, who have significant risks for mortality, the risks of a daily aspirin seem minor relative to the putative (accepted) gains in mortality observed in the studies,“ he writes.
“As far as I am concerned, when a patient or patient’s spouse asks, “What else should he be doing, Doctor?”—I will have a ready response.”
Two co-authors of the original study reported potential conflicts of interest. No other conflicts of interest were reported.