Alarming research published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute points toward the association between aspirin use and increased risk of cancer and early death in older adults. While previous studies and clinical trials have shown that aspirin may reduce the risk of developing cancer in middle-aged adults, this study from scientists at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), the Berman Center in Minnesota, and Monash University in Australia targets adults 70 years and older.
“We conducted this study as a more detailed examination of the effect of aspirin on the development of cancer as well as death from cancer," explained senior author Andrew T. Chan, MD, MPH, Chief of the Clinical and Translational Epidemiology Unit at MGH, Director of Epidemiology at the MGH Cancer Center, and a Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.
The study, called the ASPirin in Reducing Events in the Elderly (ASPREE) trial, is the first randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial of daily low-dose aspirin (100 mg) in healthy older adults. The 19,114 participants taking aspirin or placebo treatments were followed for a median of 4.7 years, after which the researchers saw an association between aspirin use and an elevated risk of death from cancer.
Dr. Chan and his colleagues concluded that aspirin was associated with a 19% higher risk of being diagnosed with metastatic cancer and a 22% higher risk of being diagnosed with advanced cancer. Although there was no association among the types of cancer developed, those who developed advanced cancer and were taking aspirin had a higher risk of dying during follow-up than those taking placebo.
"Deaths were particularly high among those on aspirin who were diagnosed with advanced solid cancers, suggesting a possible adverse effect of aspirin on the growth of cancers once they have already developed in older adults," said Dr. Chan.
While the scientists are still unsure about the way that aspirin might affect older people at the cellular or molecular level, they plan on conducting more research. In the meantime, says Dr. Chan, "Although these results suggest that we should be cautious about starting aspirin therapy in otherwise healthy older adults, this does not mean that individuals who are already taking aspirin--particularly if they began taking it at a younger age--should stop their aspirin regimen."