Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital have found that regular aspirin use can reduce the risk of developing liver cancer.
The findings — which appear in JAMA Oncology— support the results of prior studies on the same topic.
Data from this report show that taking aspirin on a regular basis can lower the risk of developing liver cancer, or hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC).
The scientists defined “a regular basis” as taking two or more 325-milligram tablets per week for 5 years or more.
The study’s results are promising. “Regular use of aspirin led to significantly lower risk of developing HCC, compared to infrequent or no aspirin use, and we also found that the risk declined progressively with increasing aspirin dose and duration of use,” says lead author Dr. Tracey Simon, who is a research fellow from the Massachusetts General Hospital Division of Gastroenterology in Boston.
Reopening the data
The researchers looked over data, including health information on more than 170,000 people, that were collected for over 3 decades.
One part of the questionnaire these patients filled out was whether they took aspirin, how often they took it, and for how long. Another part of the data included liver cancer diagnosis.
When the scientists had analyzed the numbers, they revealed that people who took two (or more) 325-milligram doses of aspirin each week had a 49 percent reduction in their risk of developing liver cancer.
For those who took aspirin for 5 years (or more), that risk was reduced by 59 percent.
Also, the team saw that the risk reduction decreased if the participant stopped taking aspirin and disappeared entirely 8 years after they stopped taking aspirin. There was no decrease in risk of liver cancer when participants took acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
The facts on liver cancer
Liver cancer is not a particularly common type of cancer, but it has been on the rise over the past few decades. Someone’s risk of developing liver cancer is elevated if they already have liver disease, such as hepatitis B or hepatitis C.
If somebody has cirrhosis of the liver — which is when scar tissue replaces normal liver cells and prevents the liver from working as it should — their risk of liver cancer is also elevated.
Liver cancer is now the third leading cause of cancer deaths around the world. Some signs and symptoms include:
- a hard lump just below the rib cage on the right side
- discomfort in that same area
- a swollen abdomen
- pain in the right shoulder blade or back
- jaundice (a yellow discoloration of the skin and whites of the eyes)
- bruising or bleeding more easily
If a person experiences unintentional weight loss, nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, and unusual tiredness or weakness, they should contact their doctor.
Liver cancer is a serious disease with a 5-year survival rate of just 17.7 percent, so any news on how to cut our risk is welcome.
“While it’s still too early know whether starting aspirin therapy might be an effective strategy to prevent HCC, efforts to understand the mechanisms behind these beneficial effects could help identify,” claims Dr. Simon, “urgently needed prevention strategies or biomarkers for a cancer that is a growing public health problem.”
The scientists’ next steps include conducting a study on how aspirin therapy works in a population with established liver disease, says Dr. Simon, since that group is already at risk of liver cancer.
Doctors already recommend aspirin to some patients to help prevent heart disease and colorectal cancer, so it is not a stretch to see how it may eventually become protocol for those at risk of liver cancer.