Cancer Causes & Control

, Volume 22, Issue 5, pp 803–810

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug and aspirin use and the risk of head and neck cancer: a systematic review

  • Jessica C. Wilson
  • Lesley A. Anderson
  • Liam J. Murray
  • Carmel M. Hughes
Review article

DOI: 10.1007/s10552-011-9751-6

Cite this article as:
Wilson, J.C., Anderson, L.A., Murray, L.J. et al. Cancer Causes Control (2011) 22: 803. doi:10.1007/s10552-011-9751-6



Use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) has been associated with a reduced risk of several cancers. This is thought to be through the inhibitory action on the cyclooxygenase (COX) enzyme, COX-2. Evidence for NSAIDs preventing head and neck cancer (HNC) is conflicting. We conducted a systematic literature review to investigate the association between NSAID/aspirin use and risk of head and neck cancer (HNC).


MEDLINE, EMBASE, PubMed, Cochrane Library, and Web of Science were systematically searched using terms for NSAIDs/aspirin, HNC, and observational/intervention study designs to identify studies published by December 2009.


Of 9,268 articles identified, two population-based prescribing database studies and three case–control studies met the selection criteria. The studies investigated different HNC sites. Only one study found a significant protective association of aspirin use with HNC risk (OR 0.75, 95% CI 0.58–0.96), and one showed a significantly increased risk of oral/oropharyngeal cancer with non-low-dose aspirin NSAID use (OR 3.5, 95% CI 1.8–6.7). Many of the studies identified lacked information on important confounding factors.


No definitive conclusion on the effect of NSAIDs/aspirin on HNC risk was possible. Aspirin may protect against HNC, although further robust large-scale studies are required to clarify any possible association.


Head and neck cancerNon-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugsAspirinSystematic reviewCOX-2

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jessica C. Wilson
    • 1
    • 2
  • Lesley A. Anderson
    • 1
  • Liam J. Murray
    • 1
  • Carmel M. Hughes
    • 3
  1. 1.Centre for Public Health, School of Medicine Dentistry and Biomedical SciencesQueen’s University BelfastBelfastUK
  2. 2.Centre for Public HealthQueen’s University BelfastBelfastNorthern Ireland, UK
  3. 3.School of PharmacyQueen’s University BelfastBelfastUK