World’s Largest Trial: Aspirin vs Recurring Cancer
Aspirin has seen documented used since way back in the times of ancient Greece. Alright, so it wasn’t just a pill you could pop back then, but certain plant extracts were found to alleviate headaches, pains and fevers.
And what these plant extracts have in common with the aspirin we deal with today is their active ingredient: salicylic acid.
Hippocrates, considered the “father of modern medicine” from his work around 400 BC, documented using a powder he made from these plant extracts, such as willow bark, and it helping to alleviate aches and pains.
Flash forwards a couple of thousand years and the powder’s makeup has been tweaked and perfected and pressed into tablet form. It’s now used to treat all of those symptoms but also swelling and inflammation, joint pain, and even heart attacks and strokes.
It’s also thought that aspirin reduces the overall risk of getting and dying from cancer, as well as preventing some cancers from returning – something that is widely and fiercely debated.
Now the world’s largest clinical trial has begun in the UK to put an end to that debate once and for all. And if it’s proven to work, it could provide a cheap but effective way to help more cancer patients survive.
The study, funded by the NIHR (the research arm of the NHS) and Cancer Research UK, will involve more than 10,000 people from 100 centres across the UK, and last up to 12 years. Each of the study participants either still needs to be receiving or have previously had treatment for early cancer.
The patients in the trial will be split into three groups and take a tablet every day for five years. This tablet could either contain 100mg of aspirin, 300mg, or it could just be a sugar pill placebo (for the control group). The researchers will then check periodically for any recurrences of the patients’ cancer.
Professor Ruth Langley, from University College London, is the lead researcher in the trial and explained that so far there hasn’t been a randomised trial to give clear proof as to the cancer benefits aspirin may hold.
“If we find that aspirin does stop these cancers from returning, it could change future treatment, providing a cheap and simple way to help stop cancer coming back and helping more people survive,” she said.
However, Professor Langley warns that taking aspirin every day is not something that people should try at home without medical advice, as the medication is not suitable for everyone. Doing so comes with a serious health warning about possible side effects, such as ulcers, or even bleeding from the stomach or brain.
Cancer Research UK’s Dr Fiona Reddington described aspirin’s possible effects on cancer as fascinating and is hoping the trial will provide the clear answers we’re all looking for.
“The trial is especially exciting as cancers that recur are often harder to treat,” she said, “so finding a cheap and effective way to prevent this is potentially game-changing for patients.”