Aspirin and other nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs inhibit prostagiandin synthesis and tumor growth in many experimental systems, but it is unclear which of these tumor models are relevant to humans. We have reported reduced risk of fatal colon cancer among persons who used aspirin in a large prospective study. This analysis examines other fatal cancers in relation to aspirin among 635,031 adults in that study who provided information in 1982 on the frequency and duration of their aspirin use and did not report cancer. Death rates were measured through 1988. Death rates decreased with more frequent aspirin use for cancers of the esophagus, stomach, colon, and rectum but not generally for other cancers. For each digestive tract cancer, death rates were approximately 40% lower among persons who used aspirin 16 times/month or more for at least 1 year compared to those who used no aspirin. The trend of decreasing risk with more frequent aspirin use was strongest among persons who had used aspirin for 10 years or more; it remained statistically significant, except for esophageal cancer, in multivariate analyses that adjusted for other known risk factors. Biases such as early detection or aspirin avoidance among cases do not appear to explain the results. Our data suggest that regular, prolonged use of aspirin may reduce the risk of fatal cancer of the esophagus, stomach, colon, and rectum. Future epidemiological and basic research should examine all digestive tract cancers in considering the chemopreventive or therapeutic potential of nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs.

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