Benefit seen in colon and gastrointestinal tumors
Regular aspirin use appears to reduce overall cancer risk, particularly against colorectal and other gastrointestinal cancers, according to a new study from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
In the study, published earlier this month in JAMA Oncology, researchers analyzed data collected from almost 130,000 men and women in the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study.
During more than 30 years of follow-up, they found that regular aspirin users—people who took either a standard or a low-dose aspirin tablet at least twice a week—had a 3 percent lower risk of overall cancer than non-regular aspirin users. Regular aspirin use was also associated with a 15 percent lower risk of gastrointestinal cancers, and a 19 percent lower colorectal cancer risk.
There’s a caveat: The benefit was seen only after years of near-daily use, which “makes sense,” according to lead author Andrew Chan, M.D., from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, “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.”
Though this study shows taking aspirin is associated with a reduction in the risk of cancer, not that it prevents the disease (and no reduction was seen in the risk of breast, lung or prostate cancers), the National Cancer Institute’s Douglas Lowy, M.D., who was not involved in the study, touted the research. “It decreased incidence as well as mortality,” he said during a presentation at the National Medical Association’s Colloquium earlier this month in National Harbor, Maryland. (Colloquium brought together prominent medical experts to address various topics, including violence and its impact on health and health policy, a campaign to prescribe exercise as a prevention vehicle for heart disease and stroke, equity in cancer care, the Zika virus pandemic, the impact of breast cancer on black women, breastfeeding as a disease prevention practice and diversity in medical education.)
This research joins a growing body of evidence that suggests aspirin may lower the risk of colon and other cancers, but the American Cancer Society (ACS) doesn’t yet have recommendations for or against use.
“”People who have not had a heart attack or stroke need to consider the overall balance of risks and benefits, including lower risk of heart disease and colon cancer, but higher risk of serious stomach bleeding,” Eric Jacobs, ACS’ strategic director for pharmacoepidemiology told Health Day. “This makes more sense than thinking about taking aspirin just for prevention of cancer.”
NCI’s Dr. Lowy believes low-dose aspirin use for African Americans, who have higher incidences of both heart disease and colon cancer, is a win-win. “Because low-dose aspirin reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease among African Americans,” he said, “increasing use could also help in this area.” Dr. Lowy expects the United States Preventive Services Task Force, which drew up draft recommendations last September, to release similar final recommendations.
Those wondering if they should start taking low-aspirin on a regular basis should first talk to their physician. Also note that aspirin is not a substitute for colon cancer screenings. “All Americans 50 or older should talk to their doctor about getting tested for colon cancer so polyps can be detected and removed before they get a chance to develop into cancer,” Jacobs said.