Is something as cheap and readily available as aspirin the “magic bullet” when it comes to fighting cancer?
Scientists are tentatively saying it may be, following a new study out of the Netherlands that showed aspirin doubled the life expectancy of people with cancer of the gastrointestinal tract, the Guardian reported.
And all the patients had to do was take one dose of a day.
This adds to a body of evidence that shows a low dose of the medicine can protect against colorectal cancer and other diseases, and now, that it could be used alongside other treatments for gastrointestinal cancers, said Dr. Nadir Arber, according to MedScape.
“Aspirin may serve as the magic bullet because it can target and prevent ischemic heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease, the three major health catastrophes in the third millennium.”
This study looked at 14,000 people with cancer in the Netherlands; half of them took aspirin regularly, the Telegraph explained. These participants were monitored for four years, and at the end of that time period, the people who took the drug were twice as likely to still be alive than those who didn’t. Among the participants, 28 percent survived at least five years.
Researchers considered other factors that could’ve contributed to their survival, like gender, age, stage, treatments, and other conditions. Aspirin emerged as the factor that kept those patients alive.
The people in the study had tumors in the colon, rectum, and esophagus.
Despite the encouraging findings, some doctors have noted that its use among individual cancer patients — such as dosage and duration of the treatment, and the associated risks — must be determined before the medical community at large will be willing to entertain the idea of adding aspirin to cancer patients’ treatment regimen.
And the studies aren’t over, either.
Study coordinator Dr. Martine Frouws said the patients’ tumors must be examined in order to figure out which were most affected by the treatment.
“Through studying the characteristics of tumours in patients where aspirin was beneficial, we should be able to identify patients who could profit from such treatment in the future. Given that aspirin is a cheap, off-patent drug with relatively few side-effects, this will have a great impact on healthcare systems as well as patients.”
Researchers will also undertake another study in which they examine how a daily low dose effects the survival of elderly people with bowel cancer, compared with a placebo. Through these studies, scientists hope to uncover even more proof that it may be the “magic bullet” some people hope it is.
Aspirin is often touted for its effectiveness in reducing the risk of a host of health problems: the aforementioned gastrointestinal cancers, as well as prostate, and possibly Alzheimer’s, WebMD added. People with a risk of strokes or angina; with diabetes; and who have an increased risk of heart attack due to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or smoking, are recommended to take daily dose of aspirin. Those with a history of colon cancer or dementia may also benefit from it.
However, the cheap drug isn’t without side effects, which is why doctors are being cautious despite the new study’s findings. It can cause serious damage to the stomach and result in a perforated ulcer or GI tract bleeding. That’s why low-dose — or “baby aspirin” — is often recommended.
And there are plenty of people with cancer who could be effected by this research. In the U.S., 132,700 new cases of colon and rectal cancer are expected each year, and among them, 49,700 deaths. As for esophageal cancer, 16,980 new cases are expected each year, and 15,590 deaths.