Cancer and platelet crosstalk: opportunities and challenges for aspirin and other antiplatelet agents

Blood. 2018 Apr 19;131(16):1777-1789. doi: 10.1182/blood-2017-05-743187. Epub 2018 Mar 8.


Platelets have long been recognized as key players in hemostasis and thrombosis; however, growing evidence suggests that they are also significantly involved in cancer, the second leading cause of mortality worldwide. Preclinical and clinical studies showed that tumorigenesis and metastasis can be promoted by platelets through a wide variety of crosstalk between platelets and cancer cells. For example, cancer changes platelet behavior by directly inducing tumor-platelet aggregates, triggering platelet granule and extracellular vesicle release, altering platelet phenotype and platelet RNA profiles, and enhancing thrombopoiesis. Reciprocally, platelets reinforce tumor growth with proliferation signals, antiapoptotic effect, and angiogenic factors. Platelets also activate tumor invasion and sustain metastasis via inducing an invasive epithelial-mesenchymal transition phenotype of tumor cells, promoting tumor survival in circulation, tumor arrest at the endothelium, and extravasation. Furthermore, platelets assist tumors in evading immune destruction. Hence, cancer cells and platelets maintain a complex, bidirectional communication. Recently, aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) has been recognized as a promising cancer-preventive agent. It is recommended at daily low dose by the US Preventive Services Task Force for primary prevention of colorectal cancer. The exact mechanisms of action of aspirin in chemoprevention are not very clear, but evidence has emerged that suggests a platelet-mediated effect. In this article, we will introduce how cancer changes platelets to be more cancer-friendly and highlight advances in the modes of action for aspirin in cancer prevention. We also discuss the opportunities, challenges, and opposing viewpoints on applying aspirin and other antiplatelet agents for cancer prevention and treatment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aspirin / therapeutic use*
  • Blood Platelets* / metabolism
  • Blood Platelets* / pathology
  • Cell Communication / drug effects*
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects*
  • Extracellular Vesicles / metabolism
  • Extracellular Vesicles / pathology
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness
  • Neoplasm Metastasis
  • Neoplasms* / metabolism
  • Neoplasms* / pathology
  • Neoplasms* / prevention & control
  • Platelet Aggregation Inhibitors / therapeutic use*
  • Secretory Vesicles / metabolism
  • Secretory Vesicles / pathology


  • Platelet Aggregation Inhibitors
  • Aspirin