Aspirin is in the news currently, with reports of a study published in the Lancet (Rothwell et al., 2010) that indicates a low dose effective in preventing cancer. Along with other non-steroidal antiinflammatories (NSAIDs) it has been shown to reduce proliferation of cancer cells and induce programmed cell death (apoptosis).

In herbal medicine, white willow bark (Salix alba) is commonly used to reduce inflammation in a similar way to aspirin and is used as an antiinflammatory and analgesic. It contains salicylate compounds, which are similar to aspirin (acetyl salicylate) and interestingly willow bark extract has also been shown to inhibit proliferation and induce apoptosis of cancer cells (Bonaterra et al., 2010). An unwanted side-effect of aspirin is that it inhibits 2 classes of molecules called prostaglandins, both those involved in inflammation as well as those involved in inducing gastric mucous production and reduction of gastric acid; this may lead to gastrointestinal damage, bleeding and ulcers. White willow bark however, only inhibits the pro-inflammatory prostaglandins and so can be used more safely.


Bonaterra GA, Kelber O, Weiser D, Metz J, Kinscherf R. (2010) ‘In vitro anti-proliferative effects of the willow bark extract STW 33-I’. Arzneimittelforschung. 60(6):330-5.

Rothwell PM, Wilson M, Elwin CE, Norrving B, Algra A, Warlow CP, Meade TW. (2010) ‘Long-term effect of aspirin on colorectal cancer incidence and mortality: 20-year follow-up of five randomised trials’. Lancet. 376(9754):1741-50. Epub 2010 Oct 21.