As published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, older people with colon cancer who were prescribed a daily dose of aspirin were less likely to die than those who were not.
Previous studies have linked aspirin use with increased survival. It can prevent some types of colon cancer from occurring in the first place.
Medical guidelines, however, currently endorse the use of low-dose aspirin to prevent heart disease, but not to fight or prevent cancer.
The study included about 500 elderly patients with colon cancer and only 100 of them were prescribed with low-dose "baby" aspirin for heart protection after their cancer diagnosis. The results showed that the death rate for those prescribed with aspirin was about half than that of the non-aspirin users. The effect was biggest in people with more advanced cancer and in those who received no chemotherapy.
Dr Gerrit Jan Liefers of Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands said he did not expect randomized trials would show such a large survival advantage. He is working to develop such a trial in the Netherlands.
The only limitation of the study is that low-dose aspirin for heart-disease protection is not available over the counter in the Netherlands. It is possible that heart benefits from aspirin might have helped the patients live longer, but the study authors said that alone couldn't account for the big difference in death rates. Also, there might be differences between the groups unaccounted for by researchers that led to the improved survival among the aspirin users.
Boris Pasche, director of the haematology and oncology division at the University of Alabama at Birmingham said “it would be helpful to figure out who would benefit from and who could skip daily aspirin. It is a fairly benign drug; but it has side effects including bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract and the brain.”
He said that patients should seek advice by their physicians whether it makes sense to take aspirin at this point. "This supports the concept, but we need a prospective randomized trial," he said.