Aspirin seen as possibly preventing liver, ovarian cancer

Aspirin has been around for years. Is it the key to preventing a variety of cancers?
Aspirin has been around for years. Is it the key to preventing a variety of cancers?Patrick Sison/AP

The reputation of aspirin has received another boost, with the publication of studies that suggest that it may help reduce the risk of liver and ovarian cancer.

One study led by researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital analyzed data from two long-term epidemiological studies and found that regular aspirin use — taking two or more 325-milligram tablets a week for five years or more — led to a significantly reduced risk of developing liver cancer.

The research bolstered evidence from previous studies. Liver cancer, also known as hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), is the second leading cause of cancer death worldwide, MGH said in a statement.


“While it’s still too early know whether starting aspirin therapy might be an effective strategy to prevent HCC, efforts to understand the mechanisms behind these beneficial effects could help identify urgently needed prevention strategies or biomarkers for a cancer that is a growing public health problem,” Dr. Tracey Simon, a research fellow in the MGH Division of Gastroenterology who was the lead author of the report, said in a statement from the hospital.

The research was published Thursday in the journal JAMA Oncology.

“Aspirin use is already recommended for prevention of heart disease and colorectal cancer in certain US adults. These data also add to a growing list of cancers for which aspirin appears to have anti-cancer activity, which could be a rationale for more patients to discuss an aspirin regimen with their physician,” said senior author Dr. Andrew Chan, chief of the MGH Clinical and Translational Epidemiology Unit in the Department of Medicine and the Division of Gastroenterology.

Dr. James Harding, a liver and bile duct cancer specialist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, said the study was well-written and well-designed and presented a “very interesting finding.”


“I think, at the end of the day, these things are evidence that suggest that inflammation is probably important in the development of cancer, in general, and possibly by reducing inflammation you can reduce the risk of cancer,” said Harding, who had no connection to the study. But, he said, more research is required into inflammation’s role in cancer.

“I don’t think this study means everyone should rush to the doctor and say, ‘I should be on aspirin,’ ” he said.

In a second study, also published in JAMA Oncology, researchers found that taking a low-dose aspirin daily may help women lower their risk of developing ovarian cancer.

The study found that women who reported taking the low-dose aspirin had a 23 percent lower risk of ovarian cancer compared with non-aspirin users. The results appeared to be consistent with earlier studies, researchers said. The research was conducted by the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute along with the Huntsman Cancer Institute and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The researchers found low-dose aspirin was associated with a lower risk of ovarian cancer, while use of standard-dose (325 milligrams) aspirin was not. The data also showed that women who took non-aspirin nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs over a period of years had a higher risk.

“We’re not quite at the stage where we could make the recommendation that daily aspirin use lowers ovarian cancer risk. We need to do more research. But it is definitely something women should discuss with their physician,” Shelley Tworoger, associate center director for Population Science at Moffitt, said in a statement from the Moffitt Institute.


Dr. Ginger J. Gardner, a gynecologic oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering who was not involved in the study said in an e-mail, “This is very interesting data, and serves as the basis to further explore the potential role of inflammation and oxidative stress in ovarian cancer development.”

“This data does not necessarily mean patients should start taking aspirin,” she said. “However, women should speak with their doctor to determine if aspirin is recommended, and to assure they are availing themselves of all the known opportunities to reduce ovarian risk, including oral contraceptive use and genetic testing.”

A number of clinical trials have been trying to determine who should really take aspirin. Some have suggested aspirin does not provide the benefits people hoped it would.

Martin Finucane can be reached at Martin.Finucane@Globe.com