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Aspirin may reduce risk of pancreatic cancer

June 10, 2008 - 7:30am
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Aspirin may reduce risk of pancreatic cancer

Little is known about the causes of and risk factors for pancreatic cancer. Some research suggests that aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may help reduce the risk of some cancers, but overall the evidence is not conclusive. The August 7, 2002 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute reports that taking aspirin, but not other NSAIDs, may reduce your risk of developing pancreatic cancer.

About the study

Researchers at the University of Minnesota studied 28,283 women in the Iowa Women’s Health Study—a larger study of 41,836 women between the ages of 55 and 69. These women completed questionnaires about their lifestyle habits and medical information in 1987, 1989, 1992, and 1997.

For this recent analysis, the researchers included only women who were free of cancer (other than skin cancer) and still living in 1992. The 1992 questionnaire was the first to inquire about use of aspirin and other NSAIDs, and the questions specifically excluded use of acetaminophen (Tylenol).

The researchers followed these women until December 31, 1999 to see which women developed pancreatic cancer. In addition to questionnaire responses, they checked cancer registries and the National Death index to confirm cases of cancer. Then they compared the number of cases of pancreatic cancer among women who took aspirin, those who took other NSAIDs, and those who took neither.

The findings

Women who took aspirin were 43% less likely to develop pancreatic cancer than women who did not take aspirin. And the more aspirin they took, the less likely they were to develop pancreatic cancer. For example, women who took aspirin 6 times per week were 60% less likely to develop the disease. However, use of non-aspirin NSAIDs was not associated with risk of pancreatic cancer.

In calculating these statistics, the researchers controlled for age, smoking, multivitamin use, and diabetes—four factors that may increase or decrease a person’s risk of pancreatic cancer.

Although these results suggest that regular aspirin use may markedly reduce the risk of pancreatic cancer, this study has its limitations. First, the participants were all women between the ages of 55 and 69, and 98% of them were white. More research is needed to determine if these results apply to men, older women, and people of other ethnic and racial groups. Second, researchers relied on the women to accurately recall the type of pain relievers they took and how often. Errors in recalling this information would not be unlikely and would compromise the strength of these findings. Third, because no information was collected regarding doses and duration of aspirin and other NSAIDs, this study provides no guidance on how much total aspirin is needed to gain the protective benefit. Finally, because dietary factors, other than multivitamin use, were not considered, it’s unclear what affect they may have had on these results.

How does this affect you?

Should you take aspirin regularly to protect yourself from pancreatic cancer? Not necessarily. This study simply suggests that among older women without cancer, fairly regular aspirin use may reduce the risk of developing pancreatic cancer. However, this study tells us nothing about how much aspirin to take and for how long. It’s really too soon to say whether regular aspirin therapy offers otherwise healthy adults any protection against pancreatic cancer.

More compelling research has shown that older adults who take low-dose aspirin regularly may be at reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, a far more common condition than pancreatic cancer, which is relatively rare. So if you’re doctor has you taking aspirin for that purpose, you may get an added benefit. Talk to your health care provider before taking any medication regularly, even something as seemingly harmless as aspirin. After all, aspirin does have a downside; when taken regularly, it can also lead to stomach ulcers.


Anderson KE, et al. Association between nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug use and the incidence of pancreatic cancer. Journal of the National Cancer Institute. August 7, 2002;94:1168-1171.

Last reviewed Aug 9, 2002 by ]]>Richard Glickman-Simon, MD]]>

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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