Over the years, a variety of studies have suggested that aspirin use is associated with reduced ovarian cancer rates, but a recent study filled in some important details, showing that frequent aspirin use is linked to a lower risk of the disease in people with multiple risk factors.
The study, led by researchers at the National Cancer Institute, was conducted by pooling data from 17 previous studies involving more than 8,300 patients. It found that daily or almost daily aspirin use was associated with a 13% reduction in ovarian cancer risk and that the benefit extended to most subgroups of individuals. Those subgroups included people with a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, and those with a history of pregnancy, oral contraception use, or surgery to close the fallopian tubes. This held true regardless of whether they had one, two, or more of these conditions.
Most of the known risk factors for ovarian cancer — such as a family history of the disease, mutations in the BRCA1 and 2 genes, and endometriosis — cannot be altered, so being able to lower that risk by taking aspirin may be an attractive option for some individuals, the study authors said. They cautioned, however, that aspirin use can lead to serious problems such as internal bleeding and stroke. They advised patients and their doctors to discuss the benefits and risks of any preventive measure before beginning a new medication.
Ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer-related deaths in women and is the most lethal gynecologic malignancy. It is diagnosed in nearly 20,000 women in the United States each year and is responsible for almost 13,000 deaths annually. It mainly occurs in older women and is more common in whites than African Americans.
“Overall, this work extends prior data that was suggestive of, but not conclusive for, a benefit of aspirin for primary prevention of ovarian cancer,” says Dana-Farber’s Rebecca Porter, MD, PhD, a specialist in gynecologic cancers. “In the study, individual patient data was pooled together from many studies to provide more robust data which indeed reveals an association between frequent aspirin use and lower risk of ovarian cancer. Given the lack of preventative measures available for most women outside of those with a known genetic risk (such as BRCA1/2 mutation carriers), these new findings are encouraging and warrant discussions between women and their health care providers regarding prophylactic aspirin use. Given the potential risks associated with frequent aspirin use, I suggest women have individualized discussions with their primary care and/or gynecology providers to weigh the relevant risks and benefits prior to initiating aspirin therapy.”
About the Medical Reviewer
Rebecca Porter, MD, PhD is a Medical Oncologist and an active translational and clinical researcher in the Gynecologic Oncology Program in the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute's Susan F. Smith Center for Women's Cancers. Dr. Porter received her MD (2013) and PhD (2011) from the University of Rochester Medical Center. Her PhD research was in the area of hematopoiesis and hematologic malignancies. She then completed Internal Medicine residency at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Hematology/Oncology fellowship training at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Massachusetts General Hospital. Her post-doctoral research focused on subtypes of pancreas cancer and the role of the tumor microenvironment on influencing differential responses to therapies. Since specializing in gynecologic cancer, she is now engaged in laboratory, translational and clinical research efforts focused on several areas of ovarian cancer, including developing new biomarkers, testing novel therapy combinations and understanding risk of therapy-related secondary cancers.