Can Aspirin Prolong Survival in Patients With NSCLC?

Frederik Joelving

December 01, 2021

Aspirin use was associated with longer overall survival in people with inoperable non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), according to a new study from Taiwan.

The analysis, published online November 22 in BMC Cancer, adds another data point to a small and inconsistent evidence base.

"Despite the need for future prospective randomized clinical trials, aspirin may be considered as an additional treatment for inoperable NSCLC patients," Ming-Szu Hung, MD, of Chang-Gung University, Taoyuan City, and colleagues write.

The current literature suggests that the over-the-counter medication may help ward off various types of cancer, including lung cancer, but the various study findings do not always align. For lung-cancer survival, in particular, a few observational studies have found increased survival among aspirin users while others have not.

To help bring clarity to the literature, Hung's team examined data from Taiwan’s National Health Insurance Research Database on more than 38,000 patients diagnosed with NSCLC between 2000 and 2012, almost 5000 of whom were taking aspirin at the time of diagnosis.

The researchers found that aspirin users survived for a median of 1.73 years, compared with 1.30 years for nonusers. Taking the drug was associated with longer overall survival in time-varying covariate analysis (hazard ratio [HR], 0.83; 95% CI, 0.80 – 0.86). This finding was confirmed in a propensity-score analysis of 4932 matched pairs (HR, 0.79; 95% CI, 0.75 – 0.83).

"These results warrant further randomized clinical trials to evaluate the actual role of aspirin in the treatment of NSCLC patients," the researchers conclude.

But Úna McMenamin, PhD, a cancer epidemiologist at Queen's University Belfast in Ireland, was not convinced by the study's methods.

While she praised its large size and use of population-based health registers, she expressed concern about the potential for reverse causation, "as it is unclear whether authors lagged the aspirin exposure in the cohort of lung cancer patients."

There is evidence that common medications such as aspirin may be withdrawn from patients who are thought to be near the end of their life, McMenamin told Medscape Medical News. When not factored into the statistical analysis, aspirin may appear “to be spuriously associated with a reduced risk of death when, in fact, no association may be present."

Previous studies of aspirin use in lung cancer patients that have included a lag, such as one McMenamin and colleagues conducted in 2015, have found no evidence of a protective effect.

That is why, according to McMenamin, "additional population-based studies, in diverse populations, are required to investigate the association between aspirin use and survival outcomes in lung-cancer patients to determine whether randomized controlled trials are warranted in this patient group."

In addition, she noted, "any potential benefit of aspirin in lung-cancer patients needs to be balanced against known adverse events associated with prolonged aspirin use, such as gastrointestinal bleeding."

Hung did not reply to requests for comment.

The study had no funding, and the researchers report no conflicts of interest.

BMC Cancer. Published online November 22, 2021. Full text

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