Aspirin use may cut ovarian cancer risk

Sick woman with health care provider

Taking aspirin on a regular basis may significantly reduce the risk of ovarian cancer, suggests new research from the National Cancer Institute.

The findings stem from a data analysis of 12 large epidemiological studies that included nearly 20,000 female study participants.

“Women who reported daily aspirin use had a 20 percent lower risk of ovarian cancer compared to women who did not use aspirin regularly,” said Britton Trabert, Ph.D. of NCI’s Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics. 

Persistent inflammation is generally thought to elevate cancer risk, leading researchers to believe that the findings might be attributable to aspirin’s anti-inflammatory effects.

“Prior studies have suggested that regular aspirin use may reduce the risk of some cancers, such as colorectal cancer,” added Trabert. “But so far, studies of aspirin use and ovarian cancer have been inconclusive.”

The study investigated the link between ovarian cancer risk and aspirin, acetaminophen and non-aspirin NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). Of the women included in the study, almost 8,000 had ovarian cancer. Among the participants who disclosed their aspirin use, a notable risk reduction stood out among regular aspirin users. Women who reported regular use of non-aspirin NSAIDs also showed a decrease in ovarian cancer risk. However, researchers say the dip was not statistically significant. 

Acetaminophen stood alone and was not associated with a decrease in ovarian cancer risk.

While the study rendered head-turning results, Trabert cautions that additional studies are necessary to better understand the relationship between aspirin and ovarian cancer prevention. At this point in the research, it’s simply too early to advise changing current clinical practice.

According to NCI, more than 20,000 new cases of ovarian cancer will be diagnosed this year. Of these, over 14,000 will be fatal. These numbers are particularly alarming considering the limited availability of ovarian cancer screening – the CDC reports that there are currently no reliable screenings for ovarian cancer in women who are asymptomatic. As a result, women who develop the disease are typically unaware of it until it advances to a dangerous late stage for which the prognoses is usually dim.

Prevention is becoming more and more crucial to survival. Recent years have seen a rise in genetic testing, specifically for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations thought to increase breast and ovarian cancer risk. In fact, some experts suggest preventative ovary removal surgery for women who have one of these genes.

By Marianne Hayes

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