Aspirin Lowers Pancreatic Cancer Risk

Regular Use Prevents Deadly Form of Cancer

Aug. 6, 2002 -- Taking an aspirin for everyday aches and pains or to keep your heart healthy may have another, unexpected benefit. A new study shows regular use of aspirin might lower your risk of one of the deadliest forms of cancer.

Researchers found women who used aspirin cut their risk of developing pancreatic cancer nearly in half. Their findings are published in the Aug. 7 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Pancreatic cancer is a rare but often fatal form of cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, about 30,000 people will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer this year, and more than 29,000 will die of the disease. It's the fourth leading cause of cancer death in men and women.

Laboratory tests have suggested that non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may fight pancreatic cancer, but until now there has been only limited evidence in humans to back up this theory. NSAIDs are commonly used to treat pain and inflammation and include aspirin, ibuprofen, Advil, Motrin, and naproxen, among others.

In this study, researchers looked at NSAID use among more than 28,000 postmenopausal women, from 1992 through 1999. They found that women who reported any use of aspirin had a 43% lower risk of pancreatic cancer compared with women who never took aspirin.

In addition, the more aspirin use a woman reported, the less likely she was to develop pancreatic cancer.

Other NSAIDs did not have the same effect. Use of NSAIDs other than aspirin did not decrease the risk of pancreatic cancer.

Study author Kristin E. Anderson, PhD, of the University of Minnesota, and colleagues say NSAIDs are thought to help prevent pancreatic cancer by inhibiting a particular enzyme in the body, thereby reducing inflammation.

The researchers say that their study suggests the drugs may also work in other ways to fight cancer because only aspirin was found to have a protective effect. But, they add, the women in the study used aspirin more often than they did other NSAIDs. This may partially explain why there was a stronger association between aspirin use and cancer prevention than was seen with the newer NSAIDs.

The researchers say that if further studies confirm this link, "more than 40% of pancreatic cancers may be prevented by aspirin among people who don't normally take aspirin."

Although experts aren't exactly sure what puts a person at risk for pancreatic cancer, smoking and obesity are thought to increase the risk.

Before regularly taking aspirin for any reason, check with your doctor. Long-term aspirin use can have potentially serious side effects, such as stomach ulcers, and your doctor can help you decide if you should take aspirin and if so, at what dose.