Aspirin and cancer prevention: A new job for an old remedy

Aug. 22, 2014—New research suggests that taking an aspirin a day could keep cancer away. But that doesn’t mean you should rush to the drugstore and stock up.

Taking an aspirin a day for at least five years may indeed lower the risk for certain cancers, according to a review of current data published in Annals of Oncology, and it may help to reduce heart-related problems too. But since aspirin is also linked to a number of other problems, including bleeding, consumers should talk to their doctors before they start popping pills, especially if they have peptic ulcers or bleeding tendencies.

About the study

Researchers pulled data from existing studies to do their work. Some of the studies took a global view of aspirin’s benefits and drawbacks, but others were tightly focused on how aspirin either did or didn’t help in preventing specific types of cancer.

With this data in hand, researchers performed a series of analyses, attempting to determine if taking a daily aspirin helped to prevent cancer or other health problems, including heart attack and stroke. Researchers also attempted to determine the harms that might come from aspirin use.

The findings

Bleeding is always a concern for people who take aspirin for long periods of time. But the researchers found that a daily dose had a number of benefits that could offset the risk of bleeding in some people.

For example, for average-risk people aged 50 to 65 years, the research indicates there would be a reduction of between 7 percent (for women) and 9 percent (for men) in the number of heart attacks, strokes or cancers over a 15-year period in response to daily aspirin use.

The researchers looked at the effect of aspirin on specific cancers and found that aspirin may offer protection against colorectal, esophageal and stomach cancers. The benefits were smaller for breast, lung and prostate cancers.

The authors believe more research is needed to determine exactly how much aspirin people should take and how long they should take it in order to reap the potential benefits. But they summarize their work by saying that, in general, the cancer-prevention benefits of aspirin seem to outweigh its risks, especially since aspirin may also provide protection from heart disease.

Read the study here.

The take-home message
Although the benefits of aspirin may outweigh the risk of serious harm, you should talk to your doctor before starting a daily aspirin regimen. Your doctor can help you to weigh the benefits and risks based on your specific health history.

Meanwhile, scientists know for sure that you can reduce your cancer risk by making these lifestyle choices:

  • Quit tobacco
  • Avoid secondhand smoke
  • Limit alcohol intake
  • Protect your skin from excessive UV exposure
  • Get enough sleep
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables
  • Exercise regularly
  • Receive regular medical care

Finally, follow your doctor’s advice about when to get vaccinated against cancer-causing diseases like human papillomavirus (HPV) and hepatitis B and when to get screened for cancers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, screening for cervical and colorectal cancer helps find precancerous lesions so they can be treated before they become cancerous. Screenings also help identify breast, cervical and colorectal cancers at an early stage—when they are highly treatable.


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