Acetylsalicylic acid commonly known as “Aspirin” has its origin in the bark of the willow trees. Its medicinal powers are well known in almost all inflammatory diseases since centuries. There is also more recent evidence that suggests that it may also prevent cancer. Therefore, in this world full of modern strides in the field of medicines, it is definitely a small reminder that we should not forget the nature’s bounty that we have seen through centuries in form of botanical remedies.
We all know that the humble aspirin has been used medically for many years as a treatment of fever and pain. The synthesized of factory produced form of this medicine started sometime in the mid-1800’s, and soon became a crown jewel for the manufacturer, The Bayer pharmaceuticals. It was used very effectively as an antipyretic drug during the epidemic of flu in the 1918. With newer research it has also been found useful in the indications of heart attacks, heart strokes, diabetes, pregnancy, dementia, etc. Aspirin is also being now credited with the lowering of risk of the colon as well as other forms of cancers.
One of the University of Oxford seminal studies by the Stroke Prevention Research, published as early as in 2011 in The Lancet, looked at a correlation between daily use of aspirin in stroke prevention and its effect on the subsequent incidences of cancer. These studies perhaps give the first clue that aspirin brings down the death counts due to many commonly known cancers. This study was at a fairly large level and involved as many as 25,570 cancer patients put on its regular use, and of which there were only 674 deaths reported which was much less than normal.
After a 5 years follow-up statistics revealed that the best ratio for use of aspirin for all cancers was 0.66 while for gastro-intestinal cancers it was 0.46 (when p=0.003 for both). It was also noted that in long-term analysis the mortality due to cancer became 22% lower in randomized participants who received aspirin regularly for five to nine years. Furthermore, the benefits were even more “clear” for the colorectal cancer, very ‘likely’ for the esophageal cancer as well as the stomach as well as the lung cancer (adenocarcinoma), and ‘suggestive’ for pancreatic and prostate cancers.
In some of the more recent studies by Harvard University Researchers, it has also come to light that the incidences of colorectal cancer are also reduced by aspirin. The authors of this study evaluated the results of experimentations’ and trails over more than 130,000 patients for over a few decades and presented an abstract during the 2015 Meeting of AACR, and while their conclusions were slightly different from the earlier studies, the effect was definitely proved. In this case the effect was slightly less in magnitude and was limited only to the GI Cancers. It also appeared to be heavily dose dependent, since it pointed to resorting to a sustained use of the aspirin.
Recently, “The Preventive Services Taskforce” in the US has been working on finalizing a recommendation in highlighting the role of Acetylsalicylic acid or the aspirin in reducing the risk of cancer. As per the details given on the NCI website there are four ongoing trials termed: ASCOLT, ASPREE, AspECT, and CAPP3. However, as a caution it also states – “there are no clear indications whether aspirin lowers the risk of cancer”.
The fact that the humble willow bark extract is capable of preventing cancer has made it possible to experiment on other botanical based drugs like the Taxol (Pacific yew), Etoposide (Mandrake root), and Vincristine (Madagascar periwinkle), to name just a few. Considering the vast largesse of botanical species, there are many others yet to be re-discovered.
It is hence time to think of aspirin as a viable cancer prevention option, especially in the cases of colorectal cancer.