Here's why researchers link low-dose aspirin to reduced liver cancer risk

  • Rates of liver cancer and of mortality from liver disease are rising

  • The longer a person takes low-dose aspirin, the greater the benefit

A new study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, has revealed that adults, who took low-dose aspirin, were less likely to develop liver cancer or to die from liver-related causes. A team of researchers, led by investigators at the Karolinska Institutet, in Sweden, and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), conducted the study.

Lead author Tracey Simon, MD, MPH, investigator in the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at MGH, said: "Rates of liver cancer and of mortality from liver disease are rising at an alarming pace in US and European countries. Despite this, there remain no established treatments to prevent the development of liver cancer, or to reduce the risk of liver-related death."

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Aspirin users had 31% lower relative risk

In order to conduct the study, the researchers analysed data from Swedish registries on 50,275 adults who had chronic viral hepatitis that is a type of liver infection, caused by the hepatitis B or C virus and is the most common risk factor for liver cancer. According to the study, the researchers followed up for nearly eight years and found that 4.0% of patients who took low-dose aspirin (less than 163 mg/day) and 8.3% of nonusers of aspirin developed liver cancer. Aspirin users had a 31% lower relative risk of developing liver cancer.

The researchers said that the longer a person took low-dose aspirin, the greater will be the benefit. When compared to short-term use of about three months to one year, the risk of liver cancer was 10% lower, 34% lower for 3-5 years of use, and 43% lower for five or more years of use.

The study also noted that liver-related deaths occurred in 11.0% of aspirin users when compared with 17.9% of nonusers over 10 years, for a 27% lower risk.

Risk of internal bleeding

The researchers also said that the benefits were seen regardless of sex, severity of hepatitis, or type of hepatitis virus (B or C). The risk of internal bleeding -- a concern when taking aspirin long-term -- was not significantly elevated among aspirin users.

"This is the first large-scale, nationwide study to demonstrate that the use of aspirin is associated with a significantly reduced long-term risk of liver cancer and liver-related mortality," said senior author Jonas F. Ludvigsson, MD, PhD, of the Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the Karolinska Institutet.

However, the researchers also noted that prospective randomised controlled trials are required to test the benefits of aspirin for those patients who are affected by liver disease.