Aspirin can prevent cancer deaths, Irish study finds

Researchers find prescription can help stop spread of breast cancer to lymph nodes

A simple aspirin pill can help reduce death rates from cancer by preventing the spread of the disease, new Irish research suggests.

Women who have been prescribed aspirin regularly before being diagnosed with breast cancer are less likely to have cancer that spreads to the lymph nodes than women who were not on prescription aspirin, according to the research funded by the Irish Cancer Society and the Health Research Board.

These women are also less likely to die from their breast cancer, the study of almost 3,000 Irish patients found.

The research, published by the American Association for Cancer Research in the journal, Cancer Research, analyses records from the National Cancer Registry Ireland (NCRI), and prescription data from the General Medical Service (GMS) pharmacy claims database.


"Our findings suggest that aspirin could play a role in reducing mortality from breast cancer by preventing the cancer spreading to nearby lymph nodes," said Dr Ian Barron, the lead author who carried out the research at Trinity College Dublin, and is now working at Johns Hopkins, USA.

Dr Barron’s team, which analysed data from 2,796 women with stage I-III breast cancer, found that women who were prescribed aspirin in the years immediately prior to their breast cancer diagnosis were statistically significantly less likely to present with a cancer in the lymph nodes than non-users. The association was strongest among women prescribed aspirin regularly and women prescribed higher aspirin doses.

“We now need to establish how and why this is the case,” Dr Barron said.

The findings are consistent with two other major studies. An analysis of cardiovascular trials found previous aspirin use reduced the risk of developing metastases and dying from cancer. The second study of breast cancer models suggested a possible mechanism by which aspirin may reduce the risk of cancer spreading to other parts of the body.

Co-author of the Irish study, Prof Kathleen Bennett, from the department of pharmacology at Trinity College Dublin, said the results did not mean women should start taking aspirin as a precautionary measure. "Aspirin can have serious side effects. We need to identify exactly how aspirin may prevent breast cancer from spreading to the lymph nodes; which women, or types of breast cancer, are most likely to benefit from taking aspirin; as well as what the optimum doses might be."

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is Health Editor of The Irish Times