NEW YORK — Regular aspirin use cut the risk of pancreatic cancer by half, according to a finding that adds one of the most lethal malignancies to the list of diseases the inexpensive pill may help fight.
Men and women who took low-dose, about 75 to 325 milligrams, of aspirin daily, usually to prevent heart disease, had a 48 percent lower risk of pancreatic cancer, according to research published Thursday in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers &Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research. Taking aspirin regularly for a decade cut the risk by 60 percent.
Studies have found that regular aspirin use reduces the risk for colon, esophageal, lung and prostate cancers, and the pill is often prescribed to lessen heart attack and stroke risk. About one in 60 adults will develop pancreatic cancer, which has a five-year survival rate of less than 5 percent, so finding ways to prevent the disease is “crucial,” said senior study author Harvey Risch.
“If people are already using low-dose aspirin for cardiovascular disease prevention, they can feel good that most likely it’s lowering their risk for pancreatic cancer,” said Risch, a professor of epidemiology at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, in a June 25 telephone interview. “For people whose doctors have told them through studying their family history of cancer or having done genetic testing have identified that they are at higher risk for pancreatic cancer, then using aspirin might be beneficial as part of a plan to try to lower their risk.”
Pancreatic cancer is the 10th most-common malignancy in the United States, in terms of new cases each year, but the fourth highest in terms of deaths, the researchers said. This year, more than 46,000 new cases of the disease will be diagnosed and almost 40,000 people in the U.S. will die, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Risch said it’s unclear how aspirin works to lower pancreatic cancer risk as researchers are unsure how the cancer evolves. He said it could be that aspirin reduces cancer risk by lowering inflammation.
Still, Thursday’s results don’t mean people should start taking aspirin to prevent pancreatic cancer as the medicine has side effects like gastrointestinal bleeding, he said.
The study involved patients from 30 hospitals in Connecticut, including 362 people with pancreatic cancer and 690 people who didn’t have the disease.
They found that both daily use of low-dose aspirin and daily use of regular aspirin, defined as a dose exceeding 325 milligrams, reduced pancreatic cancer risk. The findings were stronger in those taking the lower dose, Risch said.
The study also found that the longer a person took aspirin, the greater the protection against pancreatic cancer.