Low-dose aspirin may help reduce liver cancer risk

In a new study, researchers found that in adults with chronic viral hepatitis at high risk of liver cancer, those who took low-dose aspirin long-term were less likely to develop liver cancer or to die from liver-related causes.

The research was led by a team at Karolinska Institutet and elsewhere.

Rates of liver cancer and of mortality from liver disease are rising at an alarming pace in the U.S. and European countries.

Despite this, there are no established treatments to prevent the development of liver cancer or to reduce the risk of liver-related death.

For the analysis, the team examined information from Swedish registries on 50,275 adults who had chronic viral hepatitis, a type of liver infection that is caused by the hepatitis B or C virus and is the most common risk factor for liver cancer.

Over a ten-year period, 4% 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.

Importantly, the study showed that the longer a person took low-dose aspirin, the greater the benefit.

Compared with short-term use (3 months to 1 year), the risk of liver cancer was 10% lower for 1–3 years of use, 34% lower for 3–5 years of use, and 43% lower for 5 or more years of use.

Also, liver-related deaths occurred in 11% of aspirin users compared with 17.9% of nonusers over 10 years, representing a 27% lower relative risk for those who took the medication.

The benefits were seen regardless of sex, the 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.

The lead author of the study is Tracey Simon from the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at Massachusetts General Hospital.

The study is published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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