Aspirin May Aid Cancer Recovery
By RONI CARYN RABIN
Published: August 27, 2012
Men treated for prostate cancer who took aspirin regularly for other medical conditions were less likely to die of their cancer than patients who weren’t taking aspirin, according to a new study published on Tuesday in The Journal of Clinical Oncology.
Health Guide: Prostate Cancer
The new report is not a randomized controlled clinical trial of the kind considered the gold standard in medicine, but it adds to an intriguing and growing body of evidence suggesting that aspirin may play a beneficial role in the treatment and possibly the prevention of a variety of cancers. Much of the earlier research on aspirin focused on colon cancer.
“This is another piece of evidence suggesting aspirin does seem to have this effect against cancer across different body sites,” said Dr. Andrew T. Chan, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, who studies the role of aspirin in preventing colorectal cancer but was not involved the new research.
In the new study, researchers used the national database of a project known as CaPSURE, for Cancer of the Prostate Strategic Urologic Research Endeavor, to look at nearly 6,000 men who had localized prostate cancer and were treated with surgery or radiotherapy. Just over one-third of the men, or 2,175 of the 5,955, were taking anticoagulants, mostly aspirin.
Those taking aspirin were less than half as likely as those who were not to die of prostate cancer over a 10-year period, researchers calculated; the prostate cancer death rate for those taking aspirin was 3 percent, the researchers found, compared with 8 percent for those who did not.
The aspirin users were also significantly less likely to experience a recurrence of prostate cancer or have the disease spread to the bones, the study found.
The study is not the first to find a reduction in recurrence among prostate cancer patients who took aspirin. Researchers at the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia reported this year that among 2,051 prostate cancer patients, those not using aspirin were twice as likely to experience a recurrence within 18 months, as detected by rising scores on the prostate-specific antigen test, a strong predictor of metastasis and survival.
Though the new study reported only on deaths from prostate cancer, researchers went to great lengths to make sure that aspirin users were not experiencing fewer deaths from prostate cancer simply because they were more elderly and therefore more likely to die of other diseases before prostate cancer had progressed enough to kill them, said Dr. Kevin S. Choe, the paper’s lead author and an assistant professor of radiation oncology at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.
While Dr. Choe said it would be “ideal” to conduct a large randomized study, doing so with prostate cancer patients would be very difficult, “because the natural progression of the disease is such that you won’t know for 10 to 15 years and would have to follow people for many years.” And little money is available for research on aspirin because it is cheap and easily available, he noted.
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer occurring among men and the No. 2 cancer killer of men.
While many Americans use baby aspirin to reduce their risk of heart disease, taking aspirin regularly is risky. Patients generally are advised to do so only when their cardiac risk is presumed to outweigh the risks, which include an increase in gastrointestinal bleeding and hemorrhagic stroke.
But while doctors are reluctant to prescribe it to healthy patients, adding it to a cancer treatment regimen would involve a different set of calculations. Since the patients already are ill, potential benefits are more likely to outweigh possible harms.
Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, said he believes that aspirin’s anti-inflammatory properties may play a role in the prevention of both heart disease and cancer.
“Inflammation may not cause a cancer, but it may promote cancer — it may be the fertilizer that makes it grow,” Dr. Brawley said.