A precancerous condition of the esophagus might be improved by taking daily aspirin.
Taking aspirin with acid reducers can help patients with chronic acid reflux slow the advance of cancer of the esophagus, the tube from the throat to the stomach, a new study has found.
The study looked at patients with Barrett’s esophagus, damage to the lower portion of the tube usually caused by stomach acid, which is considered a precancerous condition.
People who complain of acid reflux are 10 times more likely to develop Barrett’s esophagus, and patients with Barrett’s are at a 50-fold risk of developing esophageal cancer.
“Based on these data, we believe people with heartburn should talk with their doctor about their risk of Barrett’s esophagus,” said lead study author Dr Janusz Jankowski, deputy vice-chancellor at the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland. He added: “But they should not self-medicate with these medications.”
The research was presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, the largest gathering of cancer doctors in the world.
Esophageal cancer is rare compared with other diseases, such as breast or prostate cancer, but nevertheless has ticked upward over the last three decades. Each year, 9,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with the disease, and 7,900 die because of it.
Esophageal cancer is the fourth most common cause of cancer death for British men and sixth most common for British women, according to research from Cambridge in 2014. Barrett’s esophagus is believed to occur in 2% of western adults, and esophageal cancer occurs within 2% of that population, researchers said.
“The risk of esophageal cancer weighs on patients with Barrett’s esophagus. This low-cost, over-the-counter regimen seems to be a win-win, delaying or preventing cancer and with little to no side effects,” said ASCO expert Andrew Epstein. “It’s an approach people with Barrett’s should consider and discuss with their doctors.”
However, Epstein cautioned against broadly interpreting the study.
“Should anyone with heartburn, even if its long-term heartburn do this? No, the data do not bear that out,” he said. “These data definitely need to be treated with caution.”
Researchers looked at whether adding aspirin to the acid reducing medication would benefit patients with Barrett’s esophagus, in an effort to prevent the aggressive treatment often recommended for the cancer.
Researchers followed a randomized group of 2,563 patients from Canadian and British hospitals for a median of nearly nine years. Of those parents, 313 developed cancer, worsened Barrett’s, or died.
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