Can aspirin prevent or treat cancer?

Aspirin has been around for over 100 years. In the last 50 years, research has shown that regular use of aspirin may prevent heart disease. Now a new study points to aspirin’s effectiveness in preventing and treating cancer.

A recent University of Oxford investigation pooled more than 50 studies to show that regular aspirin use could reduce your chances of developing certain types of cancer, and may be effective in treating some cancers as well. We talked to Charles S. Fuchs, MD, MPH, director of the Gastrointestinal Cancer Center at Dana-Farber for his take on the recent research.

Charles S. Fuchs, M.D., director of the Gastrointestinal Cancer Center at Dana-Farber

The study looked at cancer in general, but found that taking aspirin was particularly effective against gastrointestinal cancers.

  • According to the research, taking aspirin regularly can reduce your chance of getting cancer of the esophagus, stomach, breast, prostate, and lungs by as much as 30 percent.
  • Aspirin was shown to be most effective at combating colorectal cancer.
  • Research done at Dana-Farber suggests that people with an inflammatory factor in the blood called sTNFR-2 were most likely to decrease their chances of getting colorectal cancer by taking aspirin.

Despite the good aspirin can do, there are potential side effects that come with its daily use. Aspirin has been known to irritate the lining of the stomach, which can cause ulcers or gastritis. Although these effects are uncommon, you should certainly talk to your doctor before deciding to take aspirin regularly.

Some people substitute baby aspirin for the regular strength version to reduce the chance of side effects. Research indicates that baby aspirin may work to fight heart disease, but it hasn’t proven to be as effective as regular-strength aspirin in combating cancer.

More research needs to be done and the use of aspirin as a treatment for cancer is far from standard, but aspirin could be a new, easy, and affordable way to effectively reduce your chances of getting certain types of cancer and may even help treating the disease.

Charles S. Fuchs, MD, MPH, is director of the Gastrointestinal Cancer Center at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.