It’s a common medication you can buy without a prescription at any pharmacy, but it may have some very uncommon health benefits. The aspirin tablet many people take when they have a headache could offer hope for stopping the spread of cancer. Aspirin and cancer sounds like an unlikely combination, but Australian researchers think differently. According to their research, aspirin blocks the pathways by which cancer cells spread to other parts of the body, a phenomenon known as metastasis.
Aspirin Benefits: Can It Treat or Prevent Cancer?
Cancerous tumors spread by releasing proteins called growth factors. These growth factors attract blood and lymph vessels to the tumor to allow the cancer to grow and flourish. When these vessels widen, it makes it easier for cancer cells to gain access to and travel to other parts of the body. Without widening of these blood and lymphatic vessels, cancer cells have a difficult time spreading.
Australian researchers at Melbourne’s Peter MacCallum Cancer Center discovered that aspirin may give some anti-cancer drugs a run for their money. Aspirin appears to block the dilation of blood and lymphatic vessels that makes it so easy for cancer cells to spread. Cancer cells not only cause problems locally but cause other problems when they spread to other areas of the body like the brain, bones or liver.
Aspirin and Cancer: Can Aspirin Prevent Cancer Too?
This isn’t the first time researchers have looked at the benefits of aspirin for cancer treatment and prevention. In a meta-analysis (a review of a number of studies), researchers found that people who took an aspirin a day for five years or more enjoyed a reduced risk of cancer, especially cancers of the digestive tract. Some people who have had a heart attack or are at high risk for one take low-dose aspirin to reduce the risk of heart attack. Aspirin acts as a blood thinner, altering the way platelets work in a way that lowers the risk of blood clots and heart attacks. People who take aspirin for their heart may also be getting some additional protection against cancer.
Unfortunately, even low-dose aspirin has health risks. Aspirin can irritate the digestive tract and increase the risk of bleeding. People who have certain health conditions including peptic ulcer disease, asthma, heart failure or blood clotting problems shouldn’t take aspirin. It’s also important to talk to your doctor before taking aspirin.
Aspirin and Cancer: The Bottom Line?
Don’t underestimate the power of aspirin. This common pill most of us take for granted could help researchers develop better drugs to stop the spread of cancer or prevent it in people at high risk for the disease. Most doctors hesitate to recommend aspirin as a way to prevent cancer for the general population due to its potential side effects. On the other hand, people who are at high risk for cancer of the digestive tract, especially colon cancer, should talk to their doctor about the benefits versus the risks. Otherwise, eating a high-fiber diet along with more fruits and vegetables, reducing animal fat and staying physically active can help lower the risk of cancers of the colon and GI tract.
Fox News. “Aspirin’s Role in Cancer Mystery Explained by Scientists”
JNCI J Natl Cancer Inst (2012) 104 (3): 172-177. doi: 10.1093/jnci/djs019.