Cancer? Take an Aspirin

No, really!

In an earlier posting we saw that Ibuprofen and Acetaminophen both have a significant risk of blowing out your liver especially if you take them with some wine or beer; but that Aspirin was protective (and not just protective against the NSAID liver risk, but reduced the risk of cirrhosis from the booze too.)

So I’ve got the news running in the background and this story goes by about aspirin, taken regularly for 10 years, increases the risk of Macular Degeneration. Didn’t catch the dose, but the risk roughly doubles. Then again, the absolute rate of cases is quite low, so double something very small is still very small.

Along the way, the MD doing the speaking says that “Aspirin is one of our oldest drugs” and then mentions that it cuts cancer risks and can help treat some cancers. What? Is that “Got cancer? Take two aspirin and call me in the morning.”? Not quite, but…

So a bit of searching turns up rather a lot on aspirin and cancer. Seems this is a real thing. (FWIW, I do remember some years back a suggestion that this might be the case, but I’d not kept track of things to see how they turned out).

The Search has a lot of choices. From the BBC to The Wall Street Journal. So this looks like another one where I’m “late to the party”.

But just in case anyone else had not heard of this, some quotes.

NCI-Funded Clinical Trials Show Aspirin Reduces Recurrence of Polyps

Taking daily aspirin for as little as three years was shown to reduce the development of colorectal polyps by 19 percent to 35 percent in people at high risk for colorectal cancer in two randomized, controlled clinical trials published in today’s New England Journal of Medicine. These data confirm numerous, earlier observational studies that suggested that people who regularly take aspirin have lower rates of colorectal adenomas. Adenomas are abnormal growths (polyps) that are a critical midpoint in the development of most colorectal cancers.
The trials published today were carried out by a research network headed by John A. Baron, M.D., of the Norris Cotton Cancer Center, Lebanon, N.H., and by the Cancer and Leukemia Group B, with Robert Sandler, M.D., M.P.H., of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

That’s a “big deal” for those of us who have had polyps removed. I’d start taking an aspirin a day for this if I wasn’t already taking one for join discomfort ;-)

A 1/5 to 1/3 reduction is not a giant number, but it’s enough to be worth it.

It looks like “low dose” doesn’t quite do it though, at least for women in the 50 ish year range.


Low-dose aspirin (100 mg) taken every other day failed to protect women from developing cancer, according to results from a 10-year, randomized trial called the Women’s Health Study. However, researchers say that more studies are needed to determine whether moderate or high doses of aspirin may yet prove protective.
Between 1992 and 2004, researchers with the Women’s Health Study (WHS) enrolled over 39,000 women health professionals at least 45 years of age; the mean age at the start of the trial was about 54 years.

It goes on to point out that the study doesn’t say anything about the effect in men, or younger women, or with different doses. So there’s more detail yet to work out.

By Salynn Boyles
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

March 20, 2012 — Millions of Americans who take an aspirin every day to lower their risk for heart attack and stroke may also be lowering their cancer risk.

New research adds to the growing evidence that daily aspirin may help prevent certain cancers from occurring.

On top of that, daily aspirin may also be an effective treatment for people who already have cancer.

In a series of studies published in The Lancet, researchers in the United Kingdom expanded on previous research linking daily low-dose or full-strength aspirin use to a reduced risk of death from cancer over a decade of follow-up.

In their latest work, the researchers examined the short-term impact of aspirin therapy on cancer, finding a reduction in cancers after about three years of daily aspirin use, says University of Oxford professor of medical neurology Peter M. Rothwell, MD, PhD, who led the studies.

People taking aspirin for as few as five years had a lower risk of dying from cancer and of having their disease spread once it had been diagnosed.
According to the analysis, taking a low-dose aspirin every day reduced the risk of death from cancer by 37% after at least five years of use.

Taking a daily aspirin for at least three years reduced cancer incidence by close to 25% in both men and women.
Among the findings:

Over an average follow-up of six-and-a-half years, daily aspirin use was associated with a 36% reduced risk of cancer with distant spread.

Colorectal cancer patients with localized disease had a 74% reduced risk for having their disease spread when they took a daily aspirin.

Daily aspirin use was associated with a 35% reduction in cancer deaths among patients with solid tumors, but not blood cancers such as leukemia.

A third analysis of trials also showed that regular aspirin use seemed to reduce the long-term risk of developing colorectal cancer, as well as cancers of the esophagus and breast.

So it looks like women about 50+ don’t benefit much (though the numbers had a tiny benefit, it wasn’t statistically significant) in that prior link, but this one finds in a more general population it has significant benefits.

That 74% reduction of spread of colorectal cancer is just huge. Most folks don’t die of the part in the bowel, but form the metastasis to other organs (especially the liver) making it non-operable.

Is it worth the risk of increased macular degeneration? Probably depends on the person. My family has a history of colon cancer, so this is a big deal for me. A family history of macular degeneration and no cancer, you probably want to follow a different course.

The studies I picked to quote are semi-random, so their might well be more definitive works out there. For me, the big difference is that this has moved from “sounds strange but maybe something there, need to look” a few years back to “Yes, works. Trying to figure out the details” and with enough conviction that folks with an M.D. are saying it on TV.

Soo… looks like a glass of wine and an aspirin are overall pretty good for you, and the aspirin reduces the liver effects from the wine to boot!

Subscribe to feed


About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
This entry was posted in Science Bits and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to Cancer? Take an Aspirin

  1. p.g.sharrow says:

    The synthesis of aspirin is classified as an esterification reaction. Salicylic acid is treated with acetic anhydride, an acid derivative, causing a chemical reaction that turns salicylic acid’s hydroxyl group into an ester group (R-OH → R-OCOCH3). This process yields aspirin and acetic acid, which is considered a byproduct of this reaction. From the wikipedia

    Acetic acid, vinegar has been used as a pain reliever and salicylicate, willow bark, for swelling reduction for as long as people have been self ministering. Emmm this needs to be outlawed, works too well and costs to little. How will big pharm profit. Still it makes my head sing like a air leak. I think I need to try Vinegar on its own. pg

  2. Ian W says:

    There has been some discussion on whether aspirin should be considered a vitamin. Plants produce salicylic acid when they are attacked by pests. So in the wild fruits and vegetables have trace amounts of aspirin. This way of getting aspirin has the advantage that you are not ingesting aluminum with the aspirin as you do with many commercial products – aluminum has been linked to Alzheimers. In fact drinking mineral water high in silicates is recommended to flush aluminum and reduce the risk ( and others) .
    Of course aspirin is also recommended to reduce cardiovascular problems in people with existing conditions like hypertension.

    All in – it appears that consumption of continual trace amounts of salicylic acid are good for you, and it is found in organic fruit and vegetables in relatively high amounts. No need to chew willow bark ;)

  3. crosspatch says:

    Lots of things show promise in helping prevent cancer. Sometimes I see something that gives me an idea that could possibly be capitalized upon. Maybe kind of a “win win” thing.

  4. DirkH says:

    If you want to do Aspirin for this purpose use mini Aspirins with a stomach acid resistant coating. The ones I have (and take from time to time, but not daily) are 100 mg. Take a break when starting to bleed in funny places.

  5. crosspatch says:

    Re: Bleeding and aspirin … it seems that is a problem with only SOME people. There is a certain subset of people that have an exaggerated bleeding response when taking aspirin that is not shown in the rest of the population. In other words, aspirin apparently does not cause an increase in bleeding with everyone or even with most people.

    BACKGROUND: Gastrointestinal bleeding is related to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) use, especially aspirin, but only a small subset of users bleed.

    Also, it has been noted that even intravenous administration of aspirin causes increased gastrointestinal bleeding so it isn’t irritation of the stomach by the aspirin. It somehow modifies the clotting response. Maybe vitamin K has some impact in this, maybe not but it wouldn’t hurt you in any case if you are taking aspirin regularly to eat your kale.

    Click to access 757.full.pdf

  6. Petrossa says:

    It gives me a royal stomach ache. Can’t stand the stuff

  7. Tim Clark says:

    { Soo… looks like a glass of wine and an aspirin are overall pretty good for you, and the aspirin reduces the liver effects from the wine to boot! }

    I’ve been trying to tell ya………

    I take two of each every night, and have for fifteen years. Some things have certainly degenerated over that time frame, but not my macular. ;<)

  8. Gary Turner says:

    Don’t forget coffee’s cancer fighting abilities.

    You can have your wine, I’ll stick with my coffee, beer, and aspirin.

  9. p.g.sharrow says:

    Interesting aside; a test with intravenous aspirin also demonstrated Gastrointestinal bleeding. The physical presents of aspirin is not the cause, but Aspirin reduces clotting and that is the cause of Gastrointestinal bleeding. pg

  10. Jason Calley says:

    Interesting the comments by p.g.sharrow that acetic acid is used for aspirin manufacture. I wonder whether the process also creates any dichloroacetate at the same time. Some years back, the University of Alberta did studies indicating that dichloroacetate was a potent cancer killer. Immediately folk here in the US started selling dichloroacetate for hopeless cancer sufferers — and the gummint shut them all down. You can still get it in Canada — for pets.
    Also, (and this is interesting in light of E.M.s comments on vinegar speeding up his metabolism) dichloroacetate has been used in the past as a treatment for people with mitochondrial problems and reportedly ramps up metabolic functions. By the way, there is another perhaps similar cancer treatment, that of the so-called acetogenins produced by pawpaw trees.

    So it seems that variations of acetic acid (vinegar) or combinations of sodium and acetic acid (salt and vinegar) may ramp up your metabolism and somehow help to cure cancer. Decades ago, pickling was perhaps the most common way of preserving foods; most people ate quite a bit of pickled vegetables. Also, decades ago, the cancer rate was lower than today. Is there a connection? It might be worth looking at to find out.

  11. Petrossa says:

    Decades ago many people didn’t get old enough to die of cancer. I am quite sure your statement doesn’t hold up. Furthermore overall cancer rates have been steadily dropping lately.

  12. E.M.Smith says:


    The average life expectancy was lower, but in fact, most of that was from infant / youth deaths. Once you made it past those (and dying in wars) the typical old age was still pretty old.

    My Dads parents lived much longer than he did. He died of lung cancer from smoking and they didn’t smoke. Grampa was something like 90-ish IIRC while my Dad died at 56. There were also a fairly large number of ‘old folks’ in my home town. 80s not unusual.

    So while I can’t point at any statistics to prove it, I can point to where the increases in average lifespan came from: Reduced infant mortality, reduced deaths in child bearing, reduced deaths in battle for men, reduced deaths from infectious diseases (young to middle aged mostly). But that still left plenty of folks to live long lives. And the cancer rates in those folks wasn’t all that high (from what I remember of those folks dying when I was a kid).

    Admittedly, I had a biased sample as ‘my home town’ had a large Mormon population, so smoking and drinking were forbidden. We also had a bunch of Seventh Day Adventists with similar ‘clean living’ standards.

    At any rate, it was very very rare to see folks have cancer as a child, or even into middle age. Now there’s more of it. I can’t say how much is ‘crap in the environment’ v.s. just better reporting / diagnosing “natural causes”…

    In short: The Biblical “3 Score years and 10” was set as a norm a very long time ago…

    Sidebar: Oddly, there’s another threshold too. Once you get past about 70, many folks get another 20 years+ . Nobody knows why. But age of death is ‘bi-modal’ with a peak near the biblical limit and another further out. Some kind of ‘survivors bias’…

    @Jason Calley:

    Interesting stuff… There ought to be some formation of various combinations of acetic acid with chlorines and sodiums in a salted vinegar. Don’t know what the equilibrium ratios would be, though. (Probably not much). The wiki states it is a synthetic and not found in nature.

    Also stated that while some cancers were reduced in tests, that colorectal cancers were promoted, so there is likely a need for specific application decisions.

    Won’t stop me from having fish & chips with loads of salt and vinegar on them, though! ;-)

    @Gary Turner:

    I have my coffee every day… it’s “medicinal”… just like my wine and beer ;-)


    Yes. Interferes with the platelets. Just like garlic. So if doing garlic and aspirin, you ought not to have surgery scheduled nor take added ‘blood thinners’…

    @Tim Clark:

    OK, I’m hearing you. 2 of em. Every night. 2 Aspirin, and 2 bottles of wine… see how much better I’m listening now?

  13. Petrossa says:

    I am also sure, and remember having read it somewhere supported by evidence, that the average life expectancy is largely influenced by child mortality.
    But since it also meant that not enough people grew old in general. I take it as a given that natural age is determined by genes, with high levels of child mortality also less people with ‘good’ aging genes.
    Our state pension system for example is based on the age 65 as start date. The reason for this was that when it was installed, by Hitler btw, people just didn’t live much longer then 65 on average so the cost was low.
    I assume bad food, bad medicine and various other factors played a role.
    Now the the state pension is on the verge of collapse because people live now 80+ years.

    So there is definite documented difference in max age unrelated to childmortality.

  14. DirkH says:

    Petrossa says:
    22 December 2012 at 11:12 am
    I am also sure, and remember having read it somewhere supported by evidence, that the average life expectancy is largely influenced by child mortality.”

    Yes, that used to be the major influence but during the last few years child mortality in the West basically can’t go down any further yet life expectancy still grows by 3 months a year – THIS is now an effect that is due to people actually living longer. The rise in life expectancy in developing countries is still largely driven by the ongoing reduction in child mortality.
    Gapminder Life Expectancy at Birth

  15. pp.g.sharrow,
    “Emmm this needs to be outlawed, works too well and costs to little.”

    You hit the nail on the head there! The doctor who was treating my arthritis lost all interest in my condition when I found that fish oil worked just as well as the NSAIDs he was prescribing.

  16. Jason Calley says:

    @ Petrossa “Decades ago many people didn’t get old enough to die of cancer. I am quite sure your statement doesn’t hold up. Furthermore overall cancer rates have been steadily dropping lately.”

    Needless to say, I respect what you say, so your post motivated me to do some googling. After some time, I decided that you and I are BOTH less than completely accurate! It is certainly true that cancer rates are increasing — for some cancers, and/or in some locales among some nationalities. Conversely, you are very much right that cancer rates are decreasing — for some cancers, and/or in some locales among some nationalities. To complicate it a bit more, cancer deaths are very much not the same as cancer incidence rates. In nations with better health care, death rates and incidence rates may decouple. Additionally, we need to be careful not to look at it as a false dichotomy; it is certainly not a case of “people get cancer from old age” or “people get cancer from dietary reasons”. Almost certainly both reasons (and many other reasons as well) are factors. One study reported that childhood cancers were increasing — but is this a real increase or just better reporting? Another reported that overall rates were increasing — but when I looked closer the rate was for cases per year, not cases per million people and so did not tell us anything about actual rate per person.

    The more I kept reading about prevalence of cancer, the more I was reminded of reading about climate change. Details matter, and while the truth may be out there, one needs to be very exact about which truth is being referred to. Anyway — I really do some research based on your post. The result is that I am more uncertain and confused now than I was before. I guess that means that I am making progress! :)

  17. adolfogiurfa says:

    The indians in my country cure cancer with the bark of a tree called “Cat´s Claw” (it is available in the USA). Aspirin, salicylic acid was originally found in the bark of the weeping willow tree….

  18. Jason and Petrossa – I see both your points and throw an extra variable into the mix. As medicine gets better, more cancers will be actually diagnosed rather than left undiagnosed. Possibly the person involved would have died of something else before the cancer got them, so it would not have been marked down as “cause of death”. In really old books you’ll see cause of death marked down as “consumption”, which I’ve never been able to ascertain as to whether this is Tuberculosis or Cancer or something else (Aids?). It’s not something people die of these days.

    A while back I looked into DCA and found conflicting reports as to whether it was good against cancer in humans (vets can prescribe it, so it must have some value).
    (The last link is the most thought-provoking.) One thing I’m wondering after this is whether a mixture of willow-bark and vinegar is going to have much the same effect with possibly fewer side-effects.

  19. sabretoothed says:

    I think its just the anti inflammatory properties. Inflammation must be associated with cancer in some way. Why some super fit people can suddenly just die of cancer, as they have too much inflammation in the body. Maybe its the acidic state?

    But a better product would be to use Tumeric. Tumeric does the same thing but is better. And it doesn’t bleed your stomach. India has really low rates of Prostrate and other cancers, and it is though due to Tumeric. Research tumeric and you’ll see its much better then aspirin IMHO. I take Tumeric after exercise and get less injuries I think?

    Vit D also prevents cancer, and that is in the role of the inflammation/infection reduction.

  20. NickS says:

    I think Aspirin is just one of the many many things that prevents cancer, it certainly is not the best. As people have microscopic cancers (car crash victims are found to have many cancers when checked). Cancer is only a problem when it gets a blood supply, you can inhibit this with many foods. Eg eating cooked tomatoes 3 times a week reduces prostrate cancer. Dark grapes, Tumeric, Teas all prevent cancer. I think this is the most important video you should watch. As just saying Aspirin prevents cancer is silly, because it doesn’t describe the mechanism.

  21. Petrossa says:

    My wife died of cancer at a young age, so i was motivated at the time to delve deeply into the matter. Since i didn’t exactly make a paper with sources i state everything from memory, but i’ve really looked at this a lot.

    This is what i concluded:
    The older you get the greater the risk of having cancer due to your dna repair mechanism running out of steam. Genetic variants cause cancer sensitivity in people, causing them to get it earlier in life. Lifestyle is a moderate cancer risk factor.

    All put together: What with better nutrition, better health awareness lifestyle cancers are dropping (over here). Genetics seem to lightly increase (genepool pollution?). The growth of old age cancers seems smaller (due to better nutrition/care?) then the drop in lifestyle cancers , such as for example smoking related cancers or skincancer due to too much exposure.

    Tumeric is indeed a good and cheap if it doesn’t harm type of stuff to take. I do so myself for years. Boswellia is a good candidate with also good anti-inflammatory properties, as is Papaine.

  22. Tim Clark says:

    { adolfogiurfa says
    22 December 2012 at 7:39 pm
    The indians in my country cure cancer with the bark of a tree called “Cat´s Claw” (it is available in the USA). Aspirin, salicylic acid was originally found in the bark of the weeping willow tree….}

    Actually, it was originally from Assyria in Salix Babylonica. But it is in most willows.

    I would wager there is an abnormally low incidence of death from cancer in Winos. ;~)

  23. Petrossa says:

    You’d lose. Throatcancer, stomachcancer all related to alcohol intake. There was an area in France where they noticed there was an abnormally high incidence rate of throat/stomach cancer.
    Turned out to be where stoking apple liquor was done by many small mom&pop stills. With it big feasts of tasting obviously. After getting rid of that rates dropped to normal.

Comments are closed.