Aspirin could double life expectancy of cancer patients – study

© Eric Gaillard
The humble Aspirin pill may become the next revolution in cancer treatment, doubling the life expectancy of cancer patients, according to major new research by Dutch scientists.

Some 14,000 patients in the Netherlands participated in the study, having been diagnosed with gastrointestinal cancer from 1998 until 2011.

Those of them who took aspirin subsequently had a “significant” survival benefit: in the four-year follow-up period, those who took aspirin were two twice as likely to be alive.

Trial co-ordinator Dr Martine Frouws, from Leiden University in the Netherlands, presented the results at the 2015 European Cancer Congress in Vienna and explained why the study could lead to a revolutionary outcome for those suffering from cancer.

"Now we would like to analyze tumor material from these patients to try and discover which ones would benefit from aspirin treatment... Given that aspirin is a cheap, off-patent drug with relatively few side-effects, this will have a great impact on healthcare systems as well as patients,” Dr Frouws said.

The study included most frequent gastrointestinal cancer types, such as colon, rectum, and oesophagus cancer. In a way, it also makes the research unprecedented: previously, only one type of cancer, usually colorectal, was studied, according to the official press release.

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Currently, researchers are carrying out another cancer and aspirin-related study in a multicenter, randomised, placebo-controlled trial that is looking into the effect of a daily dose of 80 mg aspirin on elderly patients with colon cancer in The Netherlands.

Why does aspirin help, then? The researchers think it could be due to its antiplatelet effect: platelets are a blood component which stops bleeding by clumping and clogging blood vessel injuries, and some tumour cells are believed to hide themselves from the immune system with the help of the platelets that surround them.

Aspirin inhibits platelets, thus letting the immune system to recognise tumor cells and destroy them.

“Medical research is focusing more and more on personalised medicine, but many personalized 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,” Dr Frouws said.

"In total, 30.5 percent of patients used aspirin pre-diagnosis, 8.3 percent were solely post-diagnosis users, and 61.1 percent had not taken aspirin at all. The commonest sites for tumours were colon (42.8 percent of patients), rectum (25.4 percent), and oesophagus (10.2 percent). Median follow-up time for all patients was 48.6 months, with 28 percent of patients surviving for at least five years," the press release by the Dutch scientists reads.

The researchers’ colleagues, who didn’t participate in the research, were very optimistic about the results.

“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,” ESMO [European Society for Medical Oncology] spokesperson, Professor Nadir Arber, MD, Head of the Integrated Cancer Prevention Center in Tel Aviv, Israel, said.

“We have good evidence that the frequent use of aspirin in the population can prevent some cases of colorectal cancer. Now, Dr Frouws and colleagues show that in over 13,000 patients who were diagnosed with a gastrointestinal cancer, aspirin also improved survival compared with those who did not use it. With more and more data to support the beneficial role of aspirin, we must consider whether we should recommend it to a wider public,” Professor Peter Naredi, the European Cancer Organization scientific co-chair of the Congress, added.