Can an aspirin help cancer patients?

Aspirins. Photo: Mostafa Zeyad (CC)

Aspirins. Photo: Mostafa Zeyad (CC)

New research by Cardiff University suggests that taking aspirin could increase cancer survival by 20% and it could help stop the disease from spreading.

Researchers have found that patients who took aspirin in addition to their cancer treatment have experienced “significant reduction” in mortality and cancer spread.

Professor Peter Elwood, who led the research, says that scientists have been interested in the effects of aspirin in treating cancer for 50 years. The active ingredient was originally derived from plants.

The research

The study is the result of a review of the literature on the matter. “All together we identified 47 papers which dealt with this topic. So, over the next 18 months we worked on those, extracted the essential details, put them together in very statistical analysis and our conclusions are based on those 47 papers,” professor Elwood says.

Professor Peter Elwood. Photo: CNP.

Professor Peter Elwood. Photo: CNP.

Aspirin will not replace the current treatment, but will give additional chances of survival and a reduction in the spread of a cancer. Using aspirin doesn’t interfere with any conventional treatments, such as radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Moreover, the study is not aimed at replacing new drugs, like herseptin, which are specifically designed for particular types of cancer.

The benefits

The fact that aspirin is a cheap drug makes the use of the drug attractive. “The new drugs which are coming along cost on average about £90,000 per patient. Aspirin costs less than a penny a tablet, it’s available all over the world, it’s relatively safe drug and it can just be taken,” says Professor Elwoods.

Moreover the required dosage is very low and there is no need to take two or three tablets . “We have produced show that one junior aspirin that is about a third of an ordinary tablet has this affect. And there is no benefit in taking any more, so it’s really quite remarkable,” Professor Elwoods adds.

The National Health Service has produced a report on the research and it recommends to be considered in the current therapies. However, according to professor Elwoods, a doctor should inform about the risks and benefits, but “the final decision should be taken by a patient not the doctor”.

The risks

Bleeding is one of the risks of using aspirin. “There is no evidence of any serious bleeding in the 50,000 patients involved in those studies. So yes, there can be a bleed, but it’s unlikely to be a serious bleed and therefore the patients should be reassured,” says Professor Elwood.

The patient perspective

Jay Cousin. Photo: CNP.

Jay Cousin. Photo: CNP.

Jay Cousin is a 23 year-old ex cancer patient who was diagnosed when he was just 17 years old. “If my doctor would have told me that aspirin would have given me a up to 20 per cent survival rate I definitely would have felt safer and felt better in my self and I would definitely taken that on board,” he says.

He considers his treatment less difficult than many others, but the experience of suffering from cancer affected his life. “I hadn’t have to have chemotherapy or radiotherapy. I had something called radioactive iodine. I took a radioactive pill and then I was in a room on my own for three days or however long I was radioactive for. I wasn’t ill or anything like that, but it was a very lonely time especially after you’ve been told that you’ve got this (disease). You want people around you. So it was quite difficult, because I was on my own for these three days,” Mr. Cousin says.

“My main thing that was on my mind was my family, because obviously they weren’t happy,” he recalls. “It hit them well before it hit me. It was only when I woke up from my first surgery, that it really hit me. I woke up in a little bit a bad way in my head, that was when I started to get upset over things. But compared to a lot of people it was smooth time of it really.”

But going through the process has been worth it. “I’m just thankful that I am still here and I can still see my family and my family can still see me,” he adds.


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