Giving aspirin to older adults with advanced cancer may not be the best course of action to take as a new study revealed that this can aggravate the disease and it could lead to an early death at worst.

Existing clinical trials have already provided evidence that aspirin intake provides benefits in middle-aged adults. It reduces the risk of any developing cancer and was very promising in abating the risk of colorectal cancer. This, however, was not yet tested in older adults, prompting the study on what aspirin intake can do to the elderly.

The study, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, looked into the effects of aspirin on more than 19,114 senior citizens living in communities, located in both Australia and the U.S.

Three groups of researchers conducted the study from the Massachusetts General Hospital, Berman Center in Minnesota and Monash University in Australia.

Using ASPirin in Reducing Events in the Elderly (ASPREE) trial, researchers carried out a double-blind placebo-controlled trial where healthy and old participants were given a daily low-dose aspirin of 100mg. These elderly did not suffer from physical disability, dementia or even cardiovascular disease at the start of the study. There was a random selection as to who among the participants receive the aspirin or the placebo and were closely observed for an average of 4.7 years. The investigators published initial findings in October 2018, which showed the link between using aspirin and an increased risk of dying, mainly due to cancer.

Dr Andrew T. Chan, Chief of Clinical and Translational Epidemiology Unit at the Massachusetts General Hospital, and the senior author of the study revealed that the recent study gives a more detailed analysis of aspirin's effect on cancer development. He added that it particularly gives details on the ASPREE participants, as well as the risk of dying from the disease.

In the present study, the researchers noted that 981 of the participants in the aspirin group developed cancer, while 952 taking placebo also developed the same. They found a 19 percent higher risk of being diagnosed with cancer that has metastasised, while there was a 22 percent higher risk of advanced or stage 4 cancer. It was noted that those who took aspirin in the advanced cancer stage posed a higher risk of dying.

Aspirin and advanced cancer in older adults
A significant body of research over the last decade has established a strong statistical link between long-term aspirin use and a reduced incidence of different kinds of cancer Photo: GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / JOE RAEDLE

Conclusively, Dr Chan reiterated that death was particularly high in the group categorised with advanced cancer stage. This suggests that aspirin may have an adverse effect on cancer growth the moment they have already developed in the elderly.