Does Aspirin Halve the Risk of Death By Breast Cancer?

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Breast cancer is one of the most fatal cancers for women. According to BreastCancer.org, breast cancer has one of the highest cancer death rates for women in the United States; 30 percent of cancers in women are breast cancers. And if that was not troubling enough, an estimated one in eight U.S. women — a little over 12 percent — are expected to develop invasive breast cancer during the course of their lifetime. And it is not just women: the lifetime risk of a man getting breast cancer is one in 1,000.

Taking these statistics into consideration, it is not surprising that scientists are actively looking for ways to treat and prevent breast cancer. A new Glasgow University study has found that one treatment for reducing the risk of breast cancer could already be in your medicine cabinet for preventing heart attacks and strokes: aspirin. Specifically, researchers found that aspirin could slash the risk of death by cancer by 58 percent in women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. 

Published in the British Journal of Cancer, the 10-year study titled “Aspirin use and survival after the diagnosis of breast cancer: a population-based cohort study” looked at more than 4,000 female patients diagnosed with breast cancer from 1998 to 2008. According to researcher Colin McCowan, a possible explanation as to why aspirin has these benefits is because the painkiller might play a role in blocking inflammatory chemicals that help the disease grow.

Four thousand six hundred and twenty-seven patients diagnosed with breast cancer between 1 January 1998 and 31 December 2008 were followed up until 28 February 2010,” wrote the authors of the study regarding their findings. “Median age at diagnosis was 62. One thousand eight hundred and two (39 percent) deaths were recorded, with 815 (18 percent) attributed to breast cancer.

“One thousand and thirty-five (22 percent) patients were prescribed aspirin post-diagnosis. Such aspirin use was associated with lower risk of all-cause mortality and breast cancer-specific mortality after adjusting for age, socioeconomic status, TNM stage, tumor grade, oestrogen receptor status, surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, adjuvant endocrine therapy and aspirin use pre-diagnosis.”

Aspirin, also known as acetylsalicylic acid, is a remedy used to reduce fever and relieve mild-to-moderate pain from muscle aches, toothaches, the common cold, and headaches. It is also used to prevent blood clots and is believed to reduce the risk of stroke and heart attack. The over-the-counter tablet is available at any drugstore and is recommended to be orally ingested and accompanied with one 8-ounce glass of water.

“Aspirin use post-diagnosis of breast cancer may reduce both all-cause and breast cancer-specific mortality,” said the authors. “Further investigation seeking a causal relationship and which subgroups of patients benefit most await ongoing randomized controlled trials.”

That said, there are of course skeptics of the alleged benefits and the role aspirin can play. 

It is too soon to pinpoint a definitive conclusion, and there is some way to go before any link between aspirin use and survival after breast cancer diagnosis can be made or explained,” said Sally Greenbrook of Breakthrough Breast Cancer to The Daily Mail.

What’s more, medical professionals recommend consulting your doctor before increasing aspirin intake, as there could be side effects.

“When you take aspirin, the level of stomach protection is decreased and you’re more likely to bleed. Thus, people who take aspirin regularly — even in a buffered or coated form — will have roughly double the likelihood of having a perforated ulcer or bleeding in the GI tract,” said Mark Fendrick, an associate professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor, to WebMD. “Relatively little attention is paid to this problem that kills more people in the U.S. each year than asthma or cervical cancer.

“What we need to do is focus less attention on finding more things that make aspirin look good, we have plenty of those, and think more about focusing on how to minimize risk.”

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