Low-dose Aspirin Therapy for Cancer

Did You Know…low-dose daily aspirin therapy may help reduce your risk for certain cancers?

Taking a low-dose aspirin daily is a common prescription for those at high risk for heart attack and stroke.  Research within the last few years is pointing to another possible benefit of aspirin.  When taken regularly, it may also help reduce your risk for certain cancers, particularly colon and gastrointestinal cancers.  The benefits, however, may still not outweigh the risks.

The Aspirin-Cancer Link 

In 2012, world-renowned aspirin expert Professor Peter Rothwell of Oxford University and colleagues published three studies in The Lancet journal that suggested that if you are middle-aged, taking a low-dose aspirin every day could slash your risk for various cancers in as few as 2 to 3 years!  According to Rothwell, taking an aspirin a day may also help to prevent an existing localized cancer from metastasizing (spreading to other parts of the body), a finding that holds promise for current cancer patients who may likewise receive some benefit from supplementing with aspirin.

A study published this year in JAMA Oncology showed that taking a low-dose aspirin every day may lower your risk for colon cancer by 19%, your risk for gastrointestinal cancer by 15% and your overall cancer risk by 3%.  The benefits appeared after six years of supplementation.  Senior researcher Dr. Andrew Chan, from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston explained to CBS News: “That makes sense, because cancers don’t typically develop overnight. They take years to develop, so you would have to take aspirin for a long time to prevent cancer.”

According to Chan, aspirin impacts particular biological pathways that can cause cancer.  Aspirin also helps to lower inflammation and possibly limit the number of cancer-causing proteins in the body.

The study analyzed data from the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, which followed 130,000 men and women over 30 years.  While no link between aspirin and a lower risk for breast, prostate, or lung cancers was found, data did seem to suggest that when aspirin was taken 2 or more times a week it might prevent 17% of colon cancer diagnoses for those not screened with a colonoscopy, and 5-8% of colon cancer cases for those who are.

The American Cancer Society currently does not have any recommendations for or against the use of aspirin to possibly help cut cancer risk.

Is an Aspirin a Day Worth It? 

Experts can’t seem to agree when it comes to aspirin recommendations due to the risks involved with daily supplementation.  Taking aspirin regularly can cause stomach ulcers and greatly increase your risk of internal bleeding.  A perforated ulcer or bleeding in the GI tract can be life threatening!

While aspirin is believed to help reduce your risk of having a clot-related stroke, when taken regularly it can actually increase your risk of suffering from a bleeding (hemorrhagic) stroke.  Other risks include:

  • Allergic reactions
  • Worsening of asthma problems
  • Excessive bleeding during surgery
  • Upset stomach
  • Nausea
  • Indigestion
  • Tinnitus
  • Hearing loss

While both men and women are equally susceptible to the risks, older people with a history of stomach ulcers, people currently on medications, or individuals with a high risk of bleeding are the most vulnerable to aspirin’s negative side effects.

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) urges aspirin users to limit alcohol consumption due to additional blood-thinning effects.  If you are curious if aspirin’s benefits outweigh its risks for you, consult your physician.  Never engage in low-dose aspirin therapy except under the supervision of your doctor.

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