(CBS) Can aspirin help prevent pancreatic cancer?
A new study shows that people who use the painkiller at least once a month are much less likely to get the often-deadly form of cancer. But the finding is preliminary, and researchers are cautious about its implications.
"The results are not meant to suggest everyone should start taking aspirin once monthly to reduce their risk of pancreatic cancer," researcher Dr. Xiangt-Lin Tan, a research fellow at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., said in a written statement. "Individuals should discuss use of aspirin with their physicians because the drug carries some side effects."
For the study - presented in Orlando, Fla. at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research - Tan and his team looked at aspirin use in 904 patients with pancreatic cancer and 1,224 healthy people. They found that people who took aspirin at least one day during a month had a 26 percent lower risk for pancreatic cancer. People who took low-dose aspirin regularly for preventing heart disease had a 35 percent lower risk for pancreatic cancer, according to the statement.
Taking acetaminophen (Tylenol) was not linked to a lower risk for pancreatic cancer.
The findings didn't surprise Dr. Michael Choti, a professor of surgery and oncology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
"There have been other preclinical findings suggesting that there may be some role for aspirin in inhibiting carcinogenesis, including pancreatic carcinogenesis," Choti told HealthDay. "And in other cancers, such as colon cancer, aspirin use has been associated with a reduction in cancer risk."
The exact causes of pancreatic cancer are unknown, although it's more common in smokers and obese people. Symptoms of the disease include pain in the upper abdomen, fatigue, weight loss and loss of appetite, jaundice (yellowing of the skin), and dark urine and clay-colored stools.
The condition can be treated surgically as well as with radiation and chemotherapy. But because most cases are advanced by the time of diagnosis, few pancreatic tumors can be removed. Ninety-five percent of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer die within five years.
In 2010, there were 43,000 new cases of pancreatic cancer and almost 37,000 deaths from the disease, according to the National Cancer Institute.