Aspirin can treat cancer pains as effectively as morphine, new study suggests

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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  • Sydney Uni study: Non-addictive aspirin as good as opioids for cancer pain

An aspirin can be equally as effective as powerful opioid painkillers for people suffering from cancer, a new study suggests.

Addictive drugs such as morphine are often prescribed on the NHS to help combat the constant pain many cancer patients experience as a result of their tumours.

But fresh research has revealed there is little evidence to support the use of these pain-suppressing medicines for treating the disease.

Scientists now believe that weaker, non-addictive drugs –including aspirin – may be just as effective at helping ward off these symptoms while causing fewer side effects, too. They also concluded that the strong opioids may in fact negatively impact the body’s ability to fight cancer.

The research, carried out by scientists at the University of Warwick and the University of Sydney, comes as the NHS continues to crack down on opioid addiction.

An aspirin (pictured) can be equally as effective as powerful opioid painkillers for people suffering from cancer , a new study suggests

Addictive drugs such as morphine are often prescribed on the NHS to help combat the constant pain many cancer patients experience as a result of their tumours (stock photo of opioids)

Addictive drugs such as morphine are often prescribed on the NHS to help combat the constant pain many cancer patients experience as a result of their tumours (stock photo of opioids)

In the past four years, prescriptions written for these drugs has halved in England – but this push has primarily been for non-cancer-related pains.

Researchers examined data from more than 150 clinical trials of opioid use to treat cancer symptoms and found the evidence to support using the strong painkillers was weak, with ‘very few’ trials comparing their effect against placebo medication.

The evidence that was available suggests that weaker drugs, including antidepressants, aspirin and low-strength opioids including codeine, were just as effective at reducing cancer-related pain as powerful opioids such as morphine – which some research suggests damages the immune system.

But the study did conclude that patients who were unable to reduce their pain with standard painkillers did benefit from a small dose of the synthetic opioid fentanyl – but only when the highly addictive drug was used sparingly.

The researchers also noted that fentanyl was associated with a significant number of side effects.

‘Opioids are indispensable for intractable pain and distress at the end of life,’ says Professor Jane Ballantyne, a pain medicine expert at from the University of Washington School of Medicine. ‘But it’s worth highlighting that non-opioids are surprisingly effective for some cancer pain and may avoid the issues of dependence.’

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