Aspirin lowers the risk of colorectal cancer – and it could help prevent esophageal cancer, too, by protecting against pre-cancerous Barrett’s esophagus.
Acetylsalicylic acid, better known as plain old aspirin, is a drug almost everyone has taken at some time to treat headaches, pain, and fever. Because it helps prevent blood clots from forming, low-dose aspirin (also known as baby aspirin) is often prescribed to prevent heart attacks and stroke, too. And in recent years, cancer prevention has been added to the list of possible benefits of this common and inexpensive medication.
For example, aspirin appears to effectively lower the risk for colorectal cancer, and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) reports researchers are studying whether it may also reduce the odds of developing three other potentially deadly malignancies — melanoma, ovarian cancer, and pancreatic cancer. Now research suggests aspirin could play an important role in stopping esophageal cancer before it develops by keeping pre-cancerous cells at bay.
Adenocarcinoma of the esophagus, a form of cancer difficult to cure, is strongly linked to chronic gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which occurs when acid from the stomach flows back into the esophagus, causing irritation. If GERD is long standing, abnormal cells similar to those found in the intestines can replace the normal tissue lining the esophagus, according to the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases. This condition, called Barrett’s esophagus, raises the risk of esophageal cancer.
“We’ve seen a seven-fold increase in the frequency of esophageal adenocarcinoma in the last 40 years. It is relatively uncommon, but with its increasing frequency, it may not remain that way for long,” said researcher Stuart Spechler, MD, co-director of the Center for Esophageal Research at Baylor Scott & White Research Institute.
Treatment with drugs to lower the acid level in the stomach and surgical techniques to tighten the lower esophageal valve to keep acid and stomach contents from moving upward have been tried in hopes of halting GERD and preventing and treating Barrett’s esophagus. But the NCI says it’s unknown if these strategies lower the risk for adenocarcinoma.
However, research by Spechler and colleagues at the Baylor Scott & White Research Institute suggests daily aspirin may protect against Barrett’s esophagus, lowering the odds of progression to esophageal cancer.
“If you are predisposed to developing Barrett’s esophagus, our research suggests that taking aspirin on a regular basis might prevent the condition from developing and the cancers that go along with it,” said senior author Rhonda Souza, MD, co-director of the Baylor Scott & White Research Institute Center for Esophageal Research.
March 30, 2020
Christopher Nystuen, MD, MBA