Results from a large new study released Sunday showed no health benefit to taking daily aspirin, at least among previously healthy people 70 and over. The results were published in three studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
We asked Eric Jacobs, Ph.D., senior scientific director of epidemiology research, who himself has studied the use of aspirin in cancer prevention, to comment on the findings. He reiterates that as tempting as it may be, it’s premature to draw any firm conclusions from the study.
“Recently published results from the ASPREE study, a well-designed randomized trial, provide some evidence against the routine use of aspirin for disease prevention in men and women over age 70 without cardiovascular disease. The somewhat higher cancer death rate among aspirin users in ASPREE was unexpected, and has not been seen in other randomized trials. It could be due to chance and more evidence from randomized trials of aspirin in elderly people is needed. No clear conclusions about the effect of aspirin on risk of death from cancer can be drawn at this point.
“The new results from ASPREE do not mean that people (with or without a history of cancer) who are taking aspirin because they have had a heart attack or stroke, should stop taking aspirin. Randomized trials are currently ongoing to determine if aspirin can be useful could be helpful in treating patients with colorectal and certain other cancers. It should also be noted that the ASPREE study was too short to contradict previous scientific evidence that long-term aspirin use lowers risk of developing colorectal cancer. The typical participant in the ASPREE study took aspirin and was followed up for about 5 years, whereas previous studies indicate that lower risk of colorectal cancer can only be expected 10 or more years after starting aspirin.
“The ASPREE trial was designed to study aspirin use in older adults, predominantly 70 or older; its results do not change recommendations about aspirin use for less elderly adults. Guidelines from the respected U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommend low-dose aspirin use for most people in their 50s who have increased risk of heart attacks or strokes. This recommendation was based on balancing the benefits of long-term aspirin use, including lower risk of heart attacks and colorectal cancer, against the risks, including higher risk of serious bleeding events.
“People who are wondering whether or not they should take aspirin should talk to a clinician who is familiar with their personal medical history and can weigh their individual risks and benefits.”