By Mary Alice Hartsock, LBBC Staff; reviewed by Kala Visvanathan, MBBS, FRACP, MHS
Holmes, et al. Aspirin Intake and Survival After Breast Cancer. Journal of Clinical Oncology, Vol 28, No 9 (March 20), 2010.
Taking aspirin regularly may decrease risk of death from breast cancer and risk of breast cancer metastasis in women who have had early-stage disease, an analysis indicates.
The findings are from the Nurses' Health Study, one of the largest and longest running studies of factors that influence women's health. This analysis is one of the first to find an association between regular aspirin use and a reduction in the risk of breast cancer metastasis (spread) and death for women with early-stage breast cancer.
As a prospective observational study, the researchers watched participants over time to see whether aspirin would impact their recurrence risk. To confirm the association they found, the researchers must conduct either a blinded, randomized clinical trial or do a second study using data with more information on how much and how often participants take aspirin.
The study included 4,164 nurses in the United States who were diagnosed with stages I, II or III breast cancer between 1976 and 2002. Researchers followed the women through 2006 or until they died.
They asked the women to report their aspirin use for one or more years after they completed treatment.
Over the course of the study, 341 participants died from breast cancer. Women who took aspirin two to five days a week were 60 percent less likely to develop metastasis and 71 percent less likely to die from breast cancer than women who did not take aspirin. Taking aspirin six or seven days each week reduced risk of metastasis by 43 percent and reduced risk of breast cancer death by 64 percent. Women taking aspirin once a week had the same rates of recurrence and death as women not taking aspirin. The investigators did not have data on aspirin dose.
The relationship between aspirin intake and reduced risk of recurrence remained similar despite differences in cancer stage, menopausal status, body mass index (BMI) and estrogen receptor status.
Women who took a non-steroidal inflammatory medicine (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen six or seven days a week had a 48 percent reduced risk of recurrence or death compared to women not taking these medicines.
What This Study Means for Me
This study may reassure you if you are taking aspiring and also suggests aspirin may be helpful for women with a history of breast cancer.
The link between aspirin and a reduced risk for recurrence could be related to aspirin's anti-inflammatory effects. Researchers have found increased inflammation in tumors that progressed in several solid cancers.
A randomized, controlled clinical trial would help confirm the findings. However, the findings show promise in uncovering ways to reduce recurrence risk—especially because taking aspirin is low cost and easy. Aspirin has other health benefits, too, such as reducing the risk of heart disease.
All medicines have side effects, even aspirin. Aspirin can cause stomach bleeding, and it may not be appropriate for you depending on your medical history and other conditions.
If you are in active treatment (surgery, chemotherapy, radiation), do not take aspirin because it may interact with your medicines and increase side effects. Aspirin is not a replacement for other types of medicines that clinical trials have proved reduce the risk for recurrence. Talk with your doctor before beginning to take aspirin regularly.