Aspirin’s synergistic role in cancer immunotherapy

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  • Aspirin use appears to improve survival post diagnosis in colorectal cancers  with certain genetic mutations 
  • Immune check point inhibitors against the PDCD1 (programmed cell death 1, PD-1) to CD274 (PDCD1 ligand, PD-1) axis have shown exciting clinical benefits in the treatment of refractory cancer.
  • Aspirin appears to have a synergistic effect with new immune check point blockade therapies.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the anti PDCD1 (PD-1) antibody pembrolizumab for the treatment of solid tumours that have high-level microsatellite instability (MSI) or mismatch repair deficiency. This has been seen as an exciting development in cancer therapy as it is the first anticancer agent license based on a tumour biomarker rather than the actual primary cancer site.

High- level MSI is often present in colorectal cancer which may be why immune check point blockade has helped to improve survival in this cancer type. Unfortunately not all MSI-high colorectal cancers respond to immunotherapy. There are many complexities to individual colorectal cancers which are influenced by lifestyle factors, the microbiome and host cells which are thought to result in unique genetic and epigenetic aberrations and a distinct microenvironment. Predictive factors for immune response are therefore required.

Aspirin may reduce colorectal cancer mortality by inhibition of PTGS2 and prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) synthesis. In addition aspirin appears to have immune enhancing effects on the adaptive and innate immune response

These effects seen with aspirin appear to be influenced by the genetic makeup of the cancer. Colorectal cancer with lower-level CD274 (PD-L1) expression appear to benefit from better post diagnosis aspirin use than those with higher-level CD274 expression.

Activation of the CD274-PDCD1 immune checkpoint pathway may result in resistance to aspirin therapy in colorectal cancer treatment. This may be overcome with the use of immune checkpoint blockade therapies. Immune check point therapy and aspirin may work in a synergistic manner to control the progression of colorectal cancer.


For further information see: Hamada T, Giannakis M and Ogino S Aspirin in the era of immunotherapy Oncotarget. 2017 Sept 26: 8(43):73370-73371.

References 1. Rothwell PM, Algra A, Chen Z, Diener HC, Norrving B, Mehta Z. Effects of aspirin on risk and severity of early recurrent stroke after transient ischaemic attack and ischaemic stroke: time-course analysis of randomised trials. Lancet 2016; 18th May online.
Recently published science of interest about aspirin: aspirin mechanism In an Opinion article in press at Nature Reviews Cancer, we review the weight of the evidence supporting aspirin’s chemo preventive potential and highlight advances in our understanding of aspirin’s mechanisms of action. We challenge the notion that aspirin prevents cancer through a single, dominant pathway and propose an integrative multi-pathway model for its mode of action. We highlight how these pathways can be leveraged to develop mechanistic biomarkers for personalised risk stratification. Such biomarkers may then be translated clinically in a precision medicine approach critical to the future of aspirin chemoprevention.

1.           Gaciong Z. The real dimension of analgesic activity of aspirin. Thromb Res. 2003;110(5-6):361-4.

2.           Seymour RA, Hawkesford JE, Sykes J, Stillings M, Hill CM. An investigation into the comparative efficacy of soluble aspirin and solid paracetamol in postoperative pain after third molar surgery. Br Dent J. 2003;194(3):153- 7; discussion 49.

3.           Lampl C, Voelker M, Steiner TJ. Aspirin is first-line treatment for migraine and episodic tension-type headache regardless of headache intensity. Headache. 2012;52(1):48-56.

4.           Lecchi M, D’Alonzo L, Negro A, Martelletti P. Pharmacokinetics and safety of a new aspirin formulation for the acute treatment of primary headaches. Expert Opin Drug Metab Toxicol. 2014;10(10):1381-95.

5.           Eccles R, Loose I, Jawad M, Nyman L. Effects of acetylsalicylic acid on sore throat pain and other pain symptoms associated with acute upper respiratory tract infection. Pain Med. 2003;4(2):118-24.

6.           Bachert C, Chuchalin AG, Eisebitt R, Netayzhenko VZ, Voelker M. Aspirin compared with acetaminophen in the treatment of fever and other symptoms of upper respiratory tract infection in adults: a multicenter, randomized, double-blind, double-dummy, placebo-controlled, parallel-group, single-dose, 6-hour dose-ranging study. Clin Ther. 2005;27(7):993-1003.

7.           Leonards JR. The influence of solubility on the rate of gastrointestinal absorption of aspirin. Clin Pharmacol Ther. 1963;4:476-9.

8.           Davison C. Salicylate metabolism in man. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 1971;179:249-68.

9.           Fonseca MD, Cunha FQ, Kashfi K, Cunha TM. NOSH-aspirin (NBS-1120), a dual nitric oxide and hydrogen sulfide-releasing hybrid, reduces inflammatory pain. Pharmacol Res Perspect. 2015;3(3):e00133.

1.       Final Recommendation Statement: Aspirin Use to Prevent Cardiovascular Disease and Colorectal Cancer: Preventive Medication. U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. April 2016.

2.       Bibbins-Domingo K; U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Aspirin use for the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease and colorectal cancer: U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommendation statement. Ann Intern Med. 2016;164:836-45. doi:10.7326 /M16-0577

3.       U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Aspirin for the prevention of cardiovascular disease: recommendation statement. Ann Intern Med 2009;150:396-404.

4.       Dehmer SP, Maciosek MV, Flottemesch TJ, LaFrance AB, Whitlock EP. Aspirin for the Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease and Colorectal Cancer: A Decision Analysis for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Ann Intern Med. 2016 Jun 21;164(12):777-86.

5.       EA, Whitlock EP. Aspirin for the Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Events: A Systematic Evidence Review for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Evidence Synthesis No. 131. AHRQ Publication No.13-05195-EF-1. Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality; 2015. [PMID: 26491760]

6.       Chubak J, Kamineni A, Buist DSM, Anderson ML, Whitlock EP. Aspirin Use for the Prevention of Colorectal Cancer: An Updated Systematic Evidence Review for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Evidence Synthesis No. 133. AHRQ Publication No. 15-05228-EF-1. Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality; 2015. [PMID: 26491758]

7.       Whitlock EP, Williams SB, Burda BU, Feightner A, Beil T. Aspirin Use in Adults: Cancer, All-Cause Mortality and Harms. A Systematic Evidence Review for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Evidence Synthesis No. 132. AHRQ Publication No. 13-05193-EF-1.Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality; 2015.[PMID: 26491756]

8.       Guirguis-Blake JM, Evans CV, Senger CA, O’Connor EA, Whitlock EP. Aspirin for the primary prevention of cardiovascular events: a systematic evidence review for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Ann Intern Med. 2016;164:804-13. doi:10.7326/M15-2113

9.       Chubak J, Whitlock EP, Williams SB, Kamineni A, Burda BU, Buist DSM, et al. Aspirin for the prevention of cancer incidence and mortality: systematic evidence reviews for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Ann Intern Med. 2016;164:814-25. doi:10.7326 /M15-2117

10.    Whitlock EP, Burda BU, Williams SB, Guirguis-Blake JM, Evans CV. Bleeding risks with aspirin use for primary prevention in adults: a systematic review for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Ann Intern Med. 2016;164:826-35. doi:10.7326/M15-2112

Table 1 Studies examining PIK3CA mutation, aspirin use and colorectal cancer outcomes.



PIK3CA Mutant


PIK3CA Mutant

PIK3CA Wild-Type

No aspirin


HR (p value)

No aspirin


HR (p value)

Nurses' Health Study ft Health Professionals Follow-up Study (Liao 2012)





0.54 (0.01)



0.94 (0.96)




0.18 (<0.001)



0.96 (0.76)

VICTOR trial
(Domingo 2013)





0.29 (0.19)



0.95 (0.26)




0.11 (0.027)



0.94 (0.79)

Moffitt Cancer Centre & Royal Melbourne Hospital (Kothari 201S)





0.96 (0.86)







0.60 (0.14)




Eindhoven Cancer Registry (Reimen 2014)





0.73* (0.4)



0.55 (<0.001)


No. of Patients

No. of Deaths

Univariate RR (95% CI)

P Value"

Adjusted RR (95% Ci)c

P Value"

HLA class I antigen














No aspirin use



1 (Reference)


1 (Reference)


Aspirin use



1.08 (0.70-1.64)

1.03 (0.66-1.61)








No aspirin use



1 (Reference)


1 (Reference)


Aspirin use



0.61 (0.44-0.85)

0.53 (0.38-0.74)


1.     Langley RE, Burdett S, Tierney JF, Cafferty F, Parmar MK, Venning G. Aspirin and cancer: has aspirin been overlooked as an adjuvant therapy? Br J Cancer. 2011; 105(8): 1107-13.

2.     Rothwell PM, Wilson M, Elwin CE, Norrving B, Algra A, Warlow CP, et al. Long-term effect of aspirin on colorectal cancer incidence and mortality: 20-year follow-up of five randomised trials. Lancet. 2010; 376(9754): 1741-50.

3.     Rothwell PM, Fowkes FG, Belch JF, Ogawa H, Warlow CP, Meade TW. Effect of daily aspirin on long-term risk of death due to cancer: analysis of individual patient data from randomised trials. Lancet. 2011; 377(9759): 31-41.

4.     Rothwell PM, Price JF, Fowkes FG, Zanchetti A, Roncaglioni MC, Tognoni G, et al. Short-term effects of daily aspirin on cancer incidence, mortality, and non-vascular death: analysis of the time course of risks and benefits in 51 randomised controlled trials. Lancet. 2012; 379(9826): 1602-12.

5.     Rothwell PM, Wilson M, Price JF, Belch JF, Meade TW, Mehta Z. Effect of daily aspirin on risk of cancer metastasis: a study of incident cancers during randomised controlled trials. Lancet. 2012.

6.     Coyle C, Cafferty FH and Langley RE. Aspirin and Colorectal Cancer Prevention – Is it for everyone? Curr Colorectal Cancer Rep (2016) 12:27–34

7.     Reimers MS, Bastiaannet E, Langley RE, van Eijk R, van Vlierberghe RL, Lemmens VE, et al. Expression of HLA Class-I Antigen, Aspirin Use, and Survival After a Diagnosis of Colon Cancer. JAMA Intern Med, 2014 174(5) 732-739.

Current clinical trials of aspirin in Italy include ACCEPT-D (Aspirin and Simvastatin Combination for Cardiovascular Events Prevention Trial in Diabetes), a primary prevention trial coordinated by Dr. Nicolucci at the Mario Negri Institute in Milan, and ASAMET, a randomized, 2x2 biomarker prevention trial of low-dose aspirin and metformin in colon cancer patients coordinated by Dr. De Censi at the E.O. Ospedali Galliera in Genova. Moreover, investigators in Rome, Chieti, Verona, Siena and Bari, coordinated by Prof. Paola Patrignani, are collaborating in investigating the role of platelet activation in intestinal tumorigenesis. They will test the hypothesis that inhibition of platelet activation may explain the efficacy of low-dose aspirin as a chemopreventive agent.
Besides the references quoted in the text, the following may be of interest: Patrono C (2015) The multifaceted clinical readouts of platelet inhibition by low-dose aspirin. J Am Coll Cardiol 66:74-85. Scavone M, Femia EA, Caroppo V, Cattaneo M. Inhibition of the platelet P2Y12 receptor for adenosine diphosphate does not impair the capacity of platelet to synthesize thromboxane A2.Eur Heart J. 2015 Oct 29. pii: ehv551. [Epub ahead of print] Chan AT, Ladabaum U. Where do we stand with aspirin for the prevention of colorectal cancer? The USPTF recommendations. Gastroenterology. 2015 Nov 18. pii: S0016-5085(15)01665-0. doi: 10.1053 / j.gastro.2015.11.018. [Epub ahead of print]
ever for any consequences arising from any reliance placed on such information, views, opinions and other materials in lieu of professional medical advice.
For further information please contact International Aspirin Foundation Bower House 34 Bower Mount Road Maidstone Kent ME16 8AU Tel: +44(0) 1622 320118 Fax: +44(0) 1436 840194 Email: