Aspirin may reduce risks for liver cancer, dying from liver disease

A bottle of pills with lots of room for text. iStockphoto

Many adults take aspirin to protect against heart problems, and recent studies suggest the pill could even help stave off some cancers.

A new study adds risk reductions in developing liver cancer or dying from liver disease to list of protective benefits that the medication can give, regardless of how often it's taken.

The study, published in the Nov. 28 issue of the Journal of National Cancer Institute, looked at more than 300,000 men and women between 50 and 71 years old who were enrolled in an AARP diet and health study. Participants on average were tracked for 10 to 12 years, and reported their use of both aspirin and non-aspirin nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) throughout the study period.

NSAIDs are a class of pain-relievers that also include ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve) and prescriptions like Celebrex (celecoxib).

The researchers found people taking aspirin were 41 percent less likely to develop liver cancer, also called hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), and were 45 percent less likely to die from chronic liver disease (CLD). People who took non-aspirin NSAIDs were 26 percent less likely to die from liver disease, but had no significant protection against liver cancer.

"Aspirin, in particular, when used exclusively or with other non-aspirin NSAIDs showed a consistent protective effect related to both HCC incidence and CLD mortality, regardless of the frequency or exclusivity of use," the researchers wrote.

"We are seeing a growing body of evidence suggesting that taking aspirin long-term prevents the development of several types of cancer (in people taking NSAIDs for heart benefits)," Dr. Boris Pasche, an oncologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham who was not involved in the research, told MedPage Today.

In August, a study also published in the Journal of National Cancer Institute found that people who took aspirin daily were 16 percent less likely to die from cancer, compared to people who don't take the pill. The overall reduction was driven in part by a 40 percent reduced risk of dying from cancers of the gastrointestinal tract, including esophageal, stomach and colon cancers.

Several studies in a March issue of The Lancetfound cancer protection in aspirin-takers, including reduced risks of developing colon, lung and prostate cancers and a reduced risk for cancer spreading in those who had several forms of the disease.

Not every study however has found benefits from taking daily aspirin. An October study in Circulationfound heart attack suffers who take NSAIDs were 30 percent more likely to have a second heart attack or die from heart disease within one year of their heart attack, a risk that climbed over time.

In an accompanying editorialpublished in the same journal, researchers from the department of epidemiology and community medicine at the University of Ottawa in Canada argued while there should be more studies on how aspirin could prevent against liver cancer, researchers should continue to focus on other proven strategies, such as vaccines for hepatitis B and C and reducing obesity and alcohol use.

"We already have cheap, readily available interventions," they wrote.

Liver cancer strikes nearly 29,000 Americans each year, according to the National Cancer Institute, and kills more than 20,000 people. Other risks include smoking and genetics.

More than 30,500 Americans die of chronic liver disease or cirrhosis of the liver each year, according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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