You’ve probably heard that taking aspirin may lower your risk of heart attack. But taking aspirin to prevent pancreatic cancer?
That’s the conclusion of a study led by Dr. Harvey A. Risch, professor of epidemiology in the Department of Chronic Disease Epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health, Yale School of Medicine, and Yale Cancer Center in New Haven, Connecticut. The findings were published Tuesday in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.
Risch and his colleagues recruited 761 patients newly diagnosed with pancreatic cancer from 37 hospitals in Shanghai, China from 2006 to 2011. They compared them to 794 control volunteers who did not have pancreatic cancer.
The subjects participating in the study answered questions about when they started using aspirin, the number of years they used it, and when they stopped, among other queries. Almost all people who said they used aspirin said they used it daily.
Among those with pancreatic cancer, 11 percent reported using aspirin. Among those without cancer, 18 percent said they took it.
The researchers adjusted for several factors, including body mass index, smoking history, and history of diabetes in determining whether aspirin impacted cancer risk.
The researchers examined 18 other studies that looked at aspirin use and pancreatic cancer risk. They determined that “if the studies were considered by the year at which the midpoint of when the aspirin exposures were ascertained in the study, the odds ratios for regular use of aspirin and pancreatic cancer risk significantly decreased by 2.3 percent per year through the present,” according to a news release issued by the American Association for Cancer Research.
“We found that regular use of aspirin by a large group of people in Shanghai cut risk of pancreatic cancer almost in half,” Risch said. “These new data are consistent with what has been seen in other populations around the world.”
Pancreatic cancer is among the most dreaded and deadly of cancers. Even among those diagnosed with stage 1 exocrine pancreatic cancer, the chances of living five years are only 14 percent, according to the American Cancer Society. For those diagnosed with stage III pancreatic cancer, the chances of living five years tumble to just three percent; those with stage IV pancreatic cancer, just one percent.
Survival rates are much higher, however, for those with neuroendocrine pancreatic tumors, which can be surgically removed. Caught early, the five-year survival rate is 61 percent when the tumor is removed.
“Pancreatic cancer is relatively rare – just 1.5 percent of U.S. adults will be diagnosed with it as some point during life – and regular aspirin use can cause appreciable complications for some,” Risch said. “Therefore, a person should consult his or her doctor about aspirin use. Nevertheless, the balance of evidence shows that people who use aspirin to reduce risk for cardiovascular disease or colorectal cancer can feel positive that their use likely also lowers their risk for pancreatic cancer.”