This Common Pain Medication Can Increase Your Cancer Risk, Study Finds
A long-standing staple of your medicine cabinet may make cancer worse in older adults.
If you open the medicine cabinet in your bathroom right now, chances are that among all your daily hygiene staples, there's a bottle of aspirin sitting on one of the shelves. The ubiquitous other-the-counter remedy is commonly used as a fever reducer, pain reliever, and anti-inflammatory for everyday aches and pains. It has also long been touted for its ability to lower the risk of potentially fatal conditions like a heart attack or stroke when taken at low doses on a daily basis, the Mayo Clinic says. But while there is scientific evidence that supports that claim, regular use of aspirin comes with its own set of risks—abdominal bleeding, weakness, and impaired vision, to name a few. And according to a new study on the effects of regular aspirin use on older adults, taking a low dose of the drug daily may actually raise your risk of dying from cancer.
For a study published in August in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, a group of researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, the Berman Center in Minneapolis, and Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, observed 19,114 individuals in Australia and the United States. All participants where at least 70 years old or, in the case of U.S. minorities, 65 years old, and had no prior diagnosis of cardiovascular disease, dementia, or physical disability. Participants were put on a daily regimen of either 100 milligrams of aspirin or a placebo and monitored over the course of about five years.
Over the course of the study, 981 participants who were taking aspirin and 952 of those given the placebo developed cancer. And not only did the researchers find that more deaths from all causes occurred in the group that took aspirin, but it also linked the drug to a 19 percent higher risk of being diagnosed with cancer that had spread or metastasized, as well as a 22 percent higher risk of being diagnosed with stage 4 cancer.
"Deaths were particularly high among those on aspirin who were diagnosed with advanced solid cancers, suggesting a possible adverse effect of aspirin on the growth of cancers once they have already developed in older adults," Andrew T. Chan, MD, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and the study's senior author, said.
Previous studies, such as one published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2016, have found strong evidence that daily aspirin use may actually help prevent certain types of cancer in adults over 40—evidence which Chan says should not be dismissed as a result of the recent findings among older adults.
"Although these results suggest that we should be cautious about starting aspirin therapy in otherwise healthy older adults, this does not mean that individuals who are already taking aspirin—particularly if they began taking it at a younger age—should stop their aspirin regimen," he said.
Other medical experts, however, have only grown more skeptical. "Aspirin use is ubiquitous in the United States, and studies have quoted that up to 29 million Americans take low-dose aspirin daily," Elena A. Ivanina, MD, a gastroenterologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, recently told Healthline. "Now, this new study shows that perhaps that isn't the best idea." And for another things that might be doing you more harm and good, This Popular Supplement May Be Putting Your Heart in Danger, Study Says.