Researchers warn NOT to take aspirin to prevent lung cancer
In the United Kingdom, The Guardian proclaimed the news with the headline: "Aspirin could cut lung cancer." The article by James Meikle, health correspondent, stated: "Taking aspirin could help to reduce by more than half the risk of developing the most common form of lung cancer..."
British coverage was just as positive in The Daily Telegraph. Its headline, "Aspirin 'can halve risk of lung cancer'" introduced an article by noting, "Aspirin may help protect against lung cancer as well as heart disease and arthritis, according to new research."
In America, the news was the same, mostly based on a Reuters news service article titled, "Aspirin May Cut Risk of Lung Cancer Risk," and stating, "Aspirin, the century-old drug that relieves headaches and helps to prevent heart attacks and strokes, may also cut the risk of developing lung cancer, scientists said Tuesday."
The New York Post picked the story up, running it under the headline: "Aspirin Cuts Lung-Cancer Risk in Women: Study" and announcing that "Women who pop an aspirin at least three times a week cut their risk of developing lung cancer by more than half, a New York University study has found."
According to the researchers themselves, however, all this "good news" is misleading and any recommendation of aspirin to prevent lung cancer is premature.
The New York University (NYU) researchers, whose study was published in the British Journal of Cancer (BJC), emphasized that until large clinical trials establish aspirin's beneficial effect, women shouldn't start taking the painkiller to prevent cancer.
"We consider our results preliminary. Larger studies are needed to confirm our study's results before any recommendations about aspirin use for the prevention of lung cancer can be made," said Arslan Akhmedkhanov, M.D., assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the NYU School of Medicine, one of the study's authors.
Women should not begin taking aspirin to prevent lung cancer, cautioned Dr. Akhmedkhanov. Aspirin can cause gastrointestinal bleeding and raise the risk of other bleeding disorders, especially in those with a family history of bleeding disorders. Even if further study indicates that aspirin could help reduce the risk of lung cancer, the exact dose of aspirin that should be taken would need to be determined, and weighed against the aspirin's negative side affects.
"Aspirin definitely has side effects," said Dr. Akhmedkhanov. "By far, the best way to avoid lung cancer is to not smoke," he stressed.
The BJC is primarily responsible for the misleading stories, since it distributed a press release without any cautionary statements that the study was preliminary or that frequent use of aspirin has been linked to serious health problems. "THE HUMBLE ASPIRIN — the benefits of which already extend to arthritis and heart disease — may also reduce the risk of lung cancer, according to research published in the British Journal of Cancer today," the press release announced.
Even more irresponsible was a statement included in the release by Prof. Gordon McVie, director general of Cancer Research Campaign (CRC), which owns the BJC, who commented: "Aspirin is a remarkable drug with a wide range of health benefits, and this is the latest evidence to suggest that it could become a useful weapon against cancer."
McVie has been criticized before for his exaggerated predictions about a coming cure for cancer. After prophesying that cancer could be cured in his son's lifetime — if enough money could be pumped into research foundations like the CRC — he was blasted by the older, more respected British journal, The Lancet. "There is no case for flagrant exaggeration... Such confidence will be shattered when the public starts to see the gap between what is being said and what is being achieved," complained The Lancet's editors in a piece called "Overoptimism about Cancer." In the same article, they admitted, "the 'War on Cancer' that started in the USA then has not led to a substantial decline in overall mortality from cancer."
SOURCES: "Health Recommendations from Study on Aspirin and Lung Cancer Are Premature" New York University Medical Center June 28, 2002.
"Aspirin and lung cancer in women," British Journal of Cancer, July 1, 2002.
"Overoptimism about cancer," editorial, The Lancet, January 15, 2000.
"Aspirin could cut lung cancer," The Guardian, June 26, 2002.
"Aspirin May Cut Risk of Lung Cancer Risk — Study," Reuters, June 25, 2002.
"Aspirin can halve risk of lung cancer," The Daily Telegraph, June 26, 2002.
"Aspirin Cuts Lung-cancer Risk in Women: Study," N.Y. Post, June 27, 2002.