A new study conducted by University of Minnesota School of Public Health Professor Kristin Anderson and colleagues suggests that aspirin use has a small, but protective effect in preventing breast, pancreatic, ovarian, and colon cancers in older adults. The results are significant as public health seeks to develop affordable and effective ways of reducing cancer risks to the United States’ aging “baby boomer” population.
The data came from 15,000 women over the age of 70 who were asked to report their aspirin use in 2004 as part of the Iowa Women’s Health Study. Researchers tracked cancer cases in participants through 2011 using the Iowa State Health Registry. The study results were published in Cancer Causes & Control.
“The reductions in cancer we saw from aspirin use were anywhere from 5 to 15 percent,” says Anderson. “Aspirin is very inexpensive and this could be a very cost-effective way of reducing the burden of cancer in the elderly.”
Anderson examined the benefits of aspirin use and cancer because the U.S. spends a majority of its health care dollars on the elderly and current health recommendations are to stop screening older women for breast and colon cancers in their mid 70s.
“The recommendations are based on the risk-benefit of death, but women in this age group still have more than 10 years of life expectancy and there could be morbidity and costs associated with getting those diseases, so preventing them is still a good thing,” says Anderson.
Dr. Anderson advises that the public health community continue research on aspirin due to its affordability and demonstrated promise of preventing others diseases. Future investigations could include sharing the study’s data with other cohorts, performing meta analysis with studies of the very elderly, and looking at risk-benefits to larger populations.
She also suggests the results could help inform physicians as they consider recommending taking aspirin to their patients.