The authors determined that while the studies were still underway, overall cancer death risk plummeted by 21 percent among those taking low-dose aspirin. But the long-term benefits on some specific cancers began to show five years after the studies ended.
At five years out, death due to gastrointestinal cancers had sunk by 54 percent among those patients taking low-dose aspirin.
The protective impact of low-dose aspirin on stomach and colorectal cancer death was not seen until 10 years out, and for prostate cancer, the benefits first appeared 15 years down the road.
Twenty years after first beginning a low-dose aspirin program, death risk dropped by 10 percent among prostate cancer patients; 30 percent among lung cancer patients (although only those with adenocarcinomas, the type typically seen in nonsmokers); 40 percent among colorectal cancer patients; and 60 percent among esophageal cancer patients.
The potential impact of aspirin on pancreatic, stomach and brain cancer death rates was more problematic to gauge, the authors noted, due to the relative paucity of deaths from those specific diseases.
They also found that higher doses of aspirin did not appear to boost the protective benefit. And while neither gender nor smoking history appeared to affect the impact of low-dose aspirin, age definitely did: the 20-year risk of death went down more dramatically among older patients.
And while cautioning that more research is necessary to build on this "proof of principle," the authors suggested that people who embark on a long-term, low-dose aspirin regimen in their late 40s and 50s are probably the ones who stand to benefit the most.
Dr. Alan Arslan, an assistant professor in the departments of obstetrics and gynecology and environmental medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, described the findings as "very significant."<
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