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December 8, 2010

Aspirin Helps Reduce Cancer Deaths, Study Finds "Many Americans take aspirin to lower their risk of heart disease, but a new study suggests a remarkable added benefit, reporting that patients who took aspirin regularly for a period of several years were 21 percent less likely decades later to die of solid tumor cancers, including cancers of the stomach, esophagus and lung.

"As part of the new study, published online Monday in the journal Lancet, researchers examined the cancer death rates of 25,570 patients who had participated in eight different randomized controlled trials of aspirin that ended up to 20 years earlier."

Note and comment:

Abstract available at

Sorry, The Lancet charges $31.50 to non-subscribers just to download a full-text copy of this article -- though The Lancet contributed nothing to the cost of doing the research. Many other medical journals do the same (and many others don't). Our (conservative) estimate of The Lancet's profit margin for this transaction is 100,000% -- yes, one hundred thousand percent -- assuming a cost of 3 cents for its server to download the article (it's probably much less).

Researchers don't like this system because it reduces the usefulness and impact of their work. Often they put up with it only because they do not have a couple thousand dollars to pay expenses for peer-reviewed online open-access publication, for example in PLoS (Public Library of Science) journals. (If researchers just uploaded their work to a blog, the medical/scientific/academic/media world would seldom take it seriously -- because it's so hard to judge credibility, when even full peer review frequently gets is wrong). How different from the worlds of mathematics or astronomy, for example, where there is much less money attached, making transparency and effective collaboration far easier, since there's so much less motive to keep secrets or to scam.)

Our point is not that The Lancet is mercenary, but that we have a harmful, long-time public-policy failure. While the funding of this research is listed as "none" (welcome, in our view, since funding introduces very serious corruption in medical research -- but unwelcome in that the lack of explicit Federal funding will let The Lancet restrict the article for decades) taxpayers largely pay for the research infrastructure which made this research possible. And Congress creates the intellectual-property laws for the benefit of the very rich and the largest corporations, in return for campaign contributions and other favors -- without regard to the public interest.

Meanwhile, off to the drugstore for low-dose aspirin. Ask your doctor first, if you have serious medical problems.