The People's Perspective on Medicine

The Resurrection of Aspirin as an Anticancer and Pregnancy Drug

We used to say that aspirin was the Rodney Dangerfield of drugs...it didn't get much respect. New evidence suggests aspirin as an anticancer agent should.
LLANO TX-AUG 16 2015: Bottle of Bayer Low Dose Aspirin against white background. Recommended by doctors to reduce chance of Heart Attack.

Aspirin has been getting mixed reviews lately. There’s good news and bad news. Once upon a time doctors recommended low-dose aspirin for middle-aged and older patients to prevent heart attacks and strokes. That was even for otherwise healthy people. Some doctors even suggested that some high-risk patients take aspirin as an anticancer agent. Then the “wonder drug that works wonders”  began to fall into disfavor. Now the pendulum may be starting to swing back.

Cardiologists Turn Away from Aspirin:

Earlier this year the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American College of Cardiology (ACC) said that low-dose aspirin should only be used by people at high risk of strokes or heart attacks. Others, they said, would be more likely to be harmed. 

The 2019 ACC/AHA guidelines state:

“Low-dose aspirin for primary prevention [of cardiovascular disease] now reserved for select high-risk patients.”

Cardiologists believe that any anti-clotting benefits of aspirin that could prevent heart attacks or “ischemic” strokes are offset by an increased risk of bleeding.

Aspirin as an Anticancer Drug:

Now for the good aspirin news. Researchers from Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center report that patients with head and neck cancer have a better chance of survival if they take low-dose aspirin while undergoing treatment. An additional 8 percent of patients taking the 81 mg daily dose were still alive five years after treatment compared to those not taking aspirin.

A different study at Roswell Park compared aspirin vs no-aspirin among 164 patients being treated for early stage non-small-cell lung cancer. The patients got precision radiation therapy. Two years after treatment, 57 percent of those taking low-dose aspirin were still alive, compared to 48 percent of those who did not take the drug.

Both studies were presented at the American Society for Therapeutic Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) Annual Meeting in Chicago, Sept. 15 and 16, 2019.

Other Research Suggesting Aspirin as an Anticancer Agent:

For more than three decades aspirin has been shown to have anticancer activity. We have written extensively about this at the following links:

Will Aspirin Keep Barrett’s from Turning into Cancer?

Can You Prevent Breast Cancer with Aspirin?

Aspirin Vs. Cancer: What Are We Waiting For?

Should You Take Aspirin for Cancer Prevention or Not?

Aspirin Boosts Cancer Immunotherapy Treatment

Aspirin During High-Risk Pregnancies

In 2014 the US Preventive Services Task Force recommended that obstetricians consider recommending low-dose aspirin to patients at risk of pre-eclampsia. This complication of pregnancy can be extremely serious for both mother and baby.

Women taking low-dose aspirin (60 to 150 mg/day) are 24 percent less likely to develop pre-eclampsia. It has been known that low-dose aspirin could be helpful for this condition for almost three decades.

What is your experience with aspirin. Do you think it is a menace or a miracle? Share your experience in the comment section below.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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I was on low dose aspirin for years until I was diagnosed as high risk for blood clots. I am now on eliquis. I feel the low dose aspirin was very worthwhile and much better than earlier blood thiners

whatever happened to asprin for pain and inflamation???
i use it for that reason because other ocd’s don’t work.

Regarding the pre-eclampsia, I took low-dose aspirin 30 years ago to prevent getting pre-eclampsia with my second child. After delivery, my doctor told me a new study found it actually didn’t work for this condition. I take low dose to prevent heart issues, though now it’s found not to work for the heart. I’ll continue taking aspirin, especially if it can help prevent cancer. I’m sure at sometime, this will also be disputed. I did read that if you’ve taken aspirin for a long period of time, there could be complications when you stop. So be aware of this.

Aspirin is the ONLY drug I have in my house, and I use it only rarely. I would guess the vacillating and lukewarm response to any positive data is largely because it is cheap, and you don’t even need a script. If they can tweak a molecule or something and patent it, then they can start charging exorbitant sums, and it will be embraced by the medical community.

I was just hospitalized and given 4 units of blood because of a GI bleed caused by taking a baby aspirin every day for the past 10 years per dr’s orders. I’m afraid to take anything now if a baby aspirin could cause my hemoglobin to drop to 6 and require hospitalization. How do we know what to do when following drs’ orders causes problems like this??

I take a baby aspirin each morning. I say it is low-cost insurance, and anything that could possibly keep one from getting a deadly disease is worthy of consideration. “First, do no harm” applies here as well.

Drs say aspirin is a risk for bleeding yet think nothing of putting you on blood thinners like xarelto and eliquis.

A question: Does taking an aspirin a day flare up gastritis? I developed a horrible, painful bout of gastritis some years ago after being given naproxen after surgery. I was later told to avoid aspirin and take acetaminophen for pain. This was in 2011. Would I be safe taking aspirin now?

Yes, an aspirin a day could trigger gastritis. With your experience, you might need to forgo it.

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