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Low-Dose Aspirin May Lower Risk of Ovarian Cancer

Woman takes an aspirin

Women who reported recent, regular use of low-dose aspirin had a 23% lower risk of ovarian cancer when compared with women who did not regularly take aspirin, according to research led by Mollie Barnard, ScD, a postdoctoral fellow in the research group of Jennifer Doherty, PhD, MS, at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI). The study was recently published in the online edition of JAMA Oncology.

Barnard and her colleagues set out to describe how regular use of aspirin and non-aspirin, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are connected to ovarian cancer risk. “What made this study different from prior work was our ability to separately evaluate low-dose and standard-dose aspirin,” Barnard said. The study reported that regular use of low-dose aspirin (100 milligrams or less) was associated with lower ovarian cancer risk, while regular use of standard-dose aspirin (325 milligrams) was not. Results from the study also suggested that long-term heavy use of non-aspirin NSAIDs might be associated with an increased risk of ovarian cancer.

Ovarian cancer is the fifth most common cause of cancer-related death in U.S. women. Aspirin may reduce the risk of ovarian cancer by reducing inflammation. While several previous studies have sought to determine if aspirin and other common anti-inflammatory medications influence risk of ovarian cancer, findings have been inconsistent.

Researchers involved in this study analyzed prospective data from 205,498 women who were part of the Nurses’ Health Study and Nurses' Health Study II. Women enrolled in these studies self-reported medication use (including aspirin and non-aspirin NSAIDs), lifestyle factors, and health conditions every two years by questionnaire. Over a period of more than 25 years, 1,054 women in the studies developed ovarian cancer.

The results showed that recent low-dose aspirin use was associated with a lower risk of ovarian cancer while standard-dose aspirin use was not. However, the researchers did not observe an increasingly lower ovarian cancer risk with longer durations of low-dose aspirin use.

“Our research suggests that low-dose aspirin use is associated with a lower risk of ovarian cancer, but more research is needed to confirm that finding,” said Barnard, who spearheaded this research while a doctoral student at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “It is important for women to discuss the risks and benefits of extended aspirin use with their doctors. If future research confirms our findings, the benefits of low-dose aspirin use may expand to include ovarian cancer prevention.”

The study has received national attention from several media outlets, including the New York TimesCBS News Radio, and US News and World Report.

Cancer touches all of us.