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Expert perspective: Using aspirin regularly may lower cancer risk

Long-term aspirin use may reduce risk for overall cancer, according to a new study in JAMA Oncology.

Researchers set out to take a closer look at aspirin use for cancer prevention and better understand the benefits of aspirin for cancer screening. They found an association between aspirin use and lower cancer risk – primarily because the benefits as it related to incidence of gastrointestinal cancer were particularly notable.

“This study represents one of the most comprehensive studies to date supporting regular aspirin use as a low-cost intervention to help decrease the risk of gastrointestinal cancers,” said Emil Lou, M.D., Ph.D., a gastrointestinal oncologist, assistant professor in the Medical School, and member of the Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota. “The investigators did a very nice job culling data from two very large studies from the 1970s and 80s to the present time. They monitored patients from those studies long-term to determine their use of aspirin and rates of diagnosis of cancers.”

Methods
• Data from two large-scale studies included 88,000 women and 47,000 men, starting in the 1970s through present time
• Researchers monitored for use of aspirin and rates of diagnosis of cancers
• Medications, medical history changes and cancer diagnoses were reported every 2 years

“This is not the first time aspirin has been examined for a link to cancer prevention,” explained Lou. “Previous studies, however, were limited in terms of access to accurate information regarding doses or reliability of aspirin taken. This current study has the benefit of decades’ worth of follow up.”

Results
• A small amount of aspirin – ranging from 0.5-1.5 tablets – per week led to a small decrease in cancer diagnoses generally
• Most notable decrease in risk was among gastrointestinal cancers, especially colorectal cancer (19% lower risk)
• Lower risk of cancer appears to be a long term effect of taking aspiring over a minimum of 6 years, on average
• Aspirin use did not seem to impact the number of patients diagnosed with breast, lung or prostate cancer

So should we all be taking a regular dose of aspirin?

Aspirin use has long been discussed as a preventative measure for heart disease and major heart events, particularly for people with known risk factors. Paired with this new finding, many people may be rushing to the corner drug store for a bottle of aspirin to shore up these health rewards.

However, there are risks associated with long term aspirin use, and though the results are promising it is not necessarily recommended for all people to take a regular aspirin regimen.

“Ultimately, a wise approach is to have informed discussion with your doctor regarding risks versus potential benefits of taking aspirin regularly,” suggests Lou. “This study presents a lot of food for thought and support for further benefit of regular aspirin in the context of cancer prevention.”

Twitter: Follow HealthTalk | Follow Emil Lou, M.D., Ph.D.

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