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TimFreeman comments on Living Forever is Hard, or, The Gompertz Curve - Less Wrong

46 Post author: gwern 17 May 2011 09:08PM

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Comment author: TimFreeman 20 May 2011 10:35:30PM *  0 points [-]

Effect of daily aspirin on long-term risk of death due to cancer: analysis of individual patient data from randomised trials

Based just on the title, they seem to be looking at the wrong thing. You want to know the effect of daily aspirin on long-term risk of death, not on long-term risk of death from cancer. Your life isn't improved much if you trade death from cancer for death from (say) depression and suicide. (I have no reason to expect such a trade.)

I read the abstract too, and my concern was not changed. I have not read the whole paper.

Nevertheless, if that's the best available information, that's worth knowing. Thanks for posting it. Have an upvote.

Comment author: satt 21 May 2011 05:17:36AM 3 points [-]

I haven't read the whole paper, but I also wanted to see what aspirin's effect on all causes of death was. (I wondered whether the higher risk of bleeding would offset the lower risk of cancer; it didn't.) The magic keywords to Ctrl-F for are "all-cause".

p. 34:

The reduction in cancer deaths on aspirin during the trials resulted in lowered in-trial all-cause mortality (10.2% vs 11.1%, OR 0.92, 0.85–1.00, p=0.047, webappendix p 4), even though other deaths were not reduced (0.98, 0.89–1.07, p=0.63).

p. 36:

In patients with scheduled duration of trial treatment of 5 years or longer, all-cause mortality was reduced at 15 years’ follow-up (HR 0·92, 0·86–0·99, p=0·03), due entirely to fewer cancer deaths, but this effect was no longer seen at 20 years (0·96, 0·90–1·02, p=0·37). However, the effect on post-trial deaths was diluted by a transient increase in risk of vascular death in the aspirin groups during the first year after completion of the trials (75 observed vs 46 expected, OR 1·69, 1·08–2·62, p=0·02), presumably due to withdrawal of trial aspirin.

p. 39:

Fourth, we were unable to determine the effect of long-term (eg, 20–30 years) continued aspirin use on cancer death or all-cause mortality because of the finite duration of the trials.


Our analyses show that taking aspirin daily for 5–10 years would reduce all-cause mortality (including any fatal bleeds) during that time by about 10% (relative risk reduction). Subsequently, there would be further delayed reductions in risk of cancer death, but no continuing excess risk of bleeding.

The big caveat I have in light of this is that the trial patients were in their 40s and older. I would guess the cost-benefit balance tilts the other way for sufficiently young people because younger people have a lower risk of cancer or CVD.