Aspirin halves cancer rates in people with hereditary risk

Oct 28 2011

HMRI researcher Professor Rodney Scott, from the University of Newcastle*, is part of an international team that has finally proven that taking a regular low dose of aspirin halves the long-term risk of cancer.

A trial, published today in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet, focused on people with Lynch syndrome, an inherited genetic disorder that affects genes responsible for proof reading and correcting errors in DNA.

The study was led by Professor Sir John Burn from Newcastle University in the United Kingdom and involved scientists and clinicians from 43 centres in 16 countries following more than 800 patients for up to 10 years.

Professor Scott said the benefits of aspirin only became obvious after several years.

“In this trial, the incidence of cancer halved among the group taking daily aspirin, and the effects began to be seen five years after the patients began taking the drug,” he said.

“With all cancers related to Lynch syndrome, including cancer of the endometrium in the womb, almost 30 per cent of the patients taking the placebo had developed a cancer compared to around 15 per cent of those taking aspirin.”

The research team believes the aspirin may be helping the body to remove cells that are predisposed to becoming cancerous.

“The benefits of aspirin are occurring before the very early stages of a tumour developing, so it is possible that aspirin is having a major effect on cell behaviour,” Professor Scott said.

The international team is now preparing a large scale follow-up trial and wants to recruit 3,000 people across the world to test the effects of different doses of aspirin.

* Professor Rodney Scott is Co-Director of the University’s Priority Research Centre for Bioinformatics, Biomarker Discovery and Information-Based Medicine; Director of Molecular Genetics, Hunter Area Pathology Service, and leader of HMRI’s Information Based Medicine Program.  HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.