Some Colon Cancer Patients May Benefit From Aspirin
Experts divided over whether drug should be added to treatment
Aspirin is a "much easier and safer drug than chemotherapy, which we use without reservation," he added.
Neugut said, however, that he doesn't recommend aspirin as a way to prevent colon cancer.
The study examined tissue samples of 999 patients in the Netherlands who had surgery for colon cancer, mostly stage III or lower. Researchers then compared death rates for patients who were prescribed low-dose aspirin after diagnosis to those without the prescription, which is required in the Netherlands.
The death rate was 38 percent among those who took low (80-milligram) doses of aspirin after diagnosis compared to 49 percent among the non-aspirin users, the study found.
Survival rates were notably higher among aspirin-taking patients whose tumor cells gave off what's called HLA class I antigen -- a type of substance that alerts the immune system to defend the body. About two-thirds of 963 patients whose tumors were analyzed fell into this category.
Aspirin had no apparent effect on the other patients who took it, the researchers said.
It's unclear why aspirin might help some colon cancer patients but not others. Reimers said researchers believe aspirin may affect a process involving tumor cells and the components of blood known as platelets.
What's next? Neugut said researchers have launched studies to get a better understanding of aspirin's perceived effect on colon cancer. But the results won't be available for at least 10 years, he noted.
"There is a good chance that aspirin may also prove effective for other cancers in the future," Neugut said, "but there is much less data for any cancer other than colon."
Patients are not routinely tested for HLA class I antigens, but Reimers said it wouldn't be expensive to do so.