Liver Defense with Aspirin

Aspirin and other NSAIDs may protect against liver cancer and death due to chronic liver disease

(RxWiki News) Drugs like aspirin have been shown to reduce inflammation and the risk of many cancers. However, it has been unclear whether these drugs lower the risk of serious liver problems.

A recent study found that aspirin - a type of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) - may lower the risk of liver cancer and death caused by chronic liver disease.

In addition, non-aspirin NSAIDs may lower the risk of death due to chronic liver disease.

"Ask a doctor if you should get the Hep B vaccination."

Vikrant V. Sahasrabuddhe, MBBS, DrPH, of the National Cancer Institute, and colleagues found aspirin users with liver disease were 41 percent less likely to develop a type of liver cancer called hepatocellular carcinoma, compared to those who did not use aspirin.

The researchers also found aspirin users were 45 percent less likely to die from chronic liver disease than those who did not take aspirin. Patients benefited from aspirin no matter how often they took the drug. That is, aspirin users had lower risks of liver cancer and death whether they took aspirin daily, weekly or monthly.

Patients not only benefited from aspirin but also from other NSAIDs.

Patients who took non-aspirin NSAIDs were 26 percent less likely to die of chronic liver disease, compared to those who did not take non-aspirin NSAIDs. However, non-aspirin NSAIDs did not appear to lower the risk of liver cancer.

Hepatocellular carcinoma is the sixth most common cancer in the world. In low-income countries, the cancer is mainly caused by infection. However, in high-income countries like the United States, alcohol abuse is more to blame. Growing rates of obesity and diabetes may also play a role in the development of this liver cancer.

While the results of this study show promise for the use of aspirin in preventing liver problems, some health professionals are still timid about adopting the use of aspirin and other NSAIDs for their patients.

According to Dr. Isra G. Levy and Carolyn P. Pim from the University of Ottawa, researchers already know and understand the causes of most cases of chronic liver disease and liver cancer. These causes include viral infections like hepatitis B and hepatitis C as well as alcohol abuse.

"And we already have cheap, readily available interventions to prevent a substantial majority of such disease," they said in an editorial article about the study by Dr. Sahasrabuddhe and colleagues.

"There is much we already know about how to prevent liver disease and cancer. While we study new possibilities, let's also keep focused on what we already know," they said.

For their study, Dr. Sahasrabuddhe and colleagues looked at data from 300,504 men and women between 50 and 71 years of age. Of these, 250 were diagnosed with hepatocellular carcinoma and 428 died from chronic liver disease.

Patients should not take aspirin or other NSAIDs regularly without consulting with their physician. Long term use of aspirin and NSAIDs can cause complications like stomach bleeding.

The research was funded by the Intramural Research Program of the National Institutes of Health, Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, National Cancer Institute. The study was published November 28 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Review Date: 
November 29, 2012