Population-wide Impact of Long-term Use of Aspirin and the Risk for Cancer | Cancer Screening, Prevention, Control | JAMA Oncology | JAMA Network
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Original Investigation
March 3, 2016

Population-wide Impact of Long-term Use of Aspirin and the Risk for Cancer

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Nutrition, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts
  • 2Clinical and Translational Epidemiology Unit, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston
  • 3Division of Gastroenterology, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston
  • 4Department of Epidemiology, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts
  • 5Department of Biostatistics, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts
  • 6Department of Medical Oncology, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
  • 7Department of Pathology, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
  • 8Channing Division of Network Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
JAMA Oncol. 2016;2(6):762-769. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2015.6396
Key Points

Question  What are the potential benefits of aspirin for the prevention of cancer?

Findings  In 2 large, prospective cohort studies, regular use of low doses of aspirin for at least 6 years was associated with a significantly lower risk for overall cancer, primarily tumors of the gastrointestinal tract. Although aspirin may prevent colorectal cancers irrespective of screening, substantially more cases appear to be prevented among those who do not undergo screening.

Meaning  Long-term aspirin use was associated with a modest but significantly reduced risk for cancer, especially gastrointestinal tract cancer, and may complement the benefits of colorectal cancer screening.


Importance  The US Preventive Services Task Force recently recommended the use of aspirin to prevent colorectal cancer and cardiovascular disease among many US adults. However, the association of aspirin use with the risk for other cancer types and the potential population-wide effect of aspirin use on cancer, particularly within the context of screening, remain uncertain.

Objectives  To examine the potential benefits of aspirin use for overall and subtype-specific cancer prevention at a range of doses and durations of use and to estimate the absolute benefit of aspirin in the context of screening.

Design, Setting, and Participants  Two large US prospective cohort studies, the Nurses’ Health Study (1980-2010) and Health Professionals Follow-up Study (1986-2012), followed up 135 965 health care professionals (88 084 women and 47 881 men, respectively) who reported on aspirin use biennially. The women were aged 30 to 55 years at enrollment in 1976; the men, aged 40 to 75 years in 1986. Final follow-up was completed on June 30, 2012, for the Nurses’ Health Study cohort and January 31, 2010, for the Health Professionals Follow-up Study cohort, and data were accessed from September 15, 2014, to December 17, 2015.

Main Outcomes and Measures  Relative risks (RRs) for incident cancers and population-attributable risk (PAR).

Results  Among the 88 084 women and 47 881 men who underwent follow-up for as long as 32 years, 20 414 cancers among women and 7571 cancers among men were documented. Compared with nonregular use, regular aspirin use was associated with a lower risk for overall cancer (RR, 0.97; 95% CI, 0.94-0.99), which was primarily owing to a lower incidence of gastrointestinal tract cancers (RR, 0.85; 95% CI, 0.80-0.91), especially colorectal cancers (RR, 0.81; 95% CI, 0.75-0.88). The benefit of aspirin on gastrointestinal tract cancers appeared evident with the use of at least 0.5 to 1.5 standard aspirin tablets per week; the minimum duration of regular use associated with a lower risk was 6 years. Among individuals older than 50 years, regular aspirin use could prevent 33 colorectal cancers per 100 000 person-years (PAR, 17.0%) among those who had not undergone a lower endoscopy and 18 colorectal cancers per 100 000 person-years (PAR, 8.5%) among those who had. Regular aspirin use was not associated with the risk for breast, advanced prostate, or lung cancer.

Conclusions and Relevance  Long-term aspirin use was associated with a modest but significantly reduced risk for overall cancer, especially gastrointestinal tract tumors. Regular aspirin use may prevent a substantial proportion of colorectal cancers and complement the benefits of screening.