Low-to-moderate doses of aspirin taken over long periods are associated with a significantly lower risk of mortality in women, research shows.

A research team at the Harvard Medical School in Boston led by Andrew T. Chan, MD, analyzed the records of nearly 80,000 women enrolled in the ongoing Nurses’ Health Study who had no history of cardiovascular disease (CVD) or cancer at baseline. At 24 years’ follow-up, 9,477 of the women had died—1,991 of CVD, 4,469 of cancer, and the remainder from other causes. The researchers found that compared with women who didn’t use aspirin regularly, those who took 1-14 standard tablets per week had a 25% reduced risk of death from any cause, a 38% reduced risk of death from CVD, and a 12% reduced mortality risk from any form of cancer.

Much of the apparent CVD protection was achieved within the first five years. In contrast, a significant benefit for reducing cancer-related deaths wasn’t evident until at least 10 years of consistent aspirin use (Arch Intern Med. 2007; 167:562-572).

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In an accompanying editorial (535-536), John A. Baron, MD, of the Dartmouth Medical School in Hanover, N.H., called the study’s findings “provocative” but noted that they “contrast sharply with the pattern seen in primary prevention clinical trials.” In sum, he concluded, the study “cannot overcome the accumulated evidence that aspirin is not particularly effective for the primary prevention of death from cardiovascular disease in women.”