Potential Cancer Fighting Properties of Aspirin

One of the most common items in your medicine cabinet may be a strong weapon against cancer. Evidence suggests taking a low-dose aspirin (81 milligrams) daily may protect you from developing many types of cancer, including those hardest to treat successfully, says Robert S. Bresalier, M.D., professor of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition at MD Anderson. Colon cancer, rectal cancer and prostate cancer are among the most common and life-threatening cancers in the United States, according to the National Cancer Institute. But aspirin use could have a positive impact on your risks for these diseases. “Studies show long-term aspirin use lowers rates of precancerous colorectal polyps and prostate lesions according to Bresalier. In fact, taking a low-dose aspirin daily could reduce your colon cancer and rectal cancer risks by as much as 50%.

The story is much the same for other common cancers. A study of recovering breast cancer patients found those who took a daily aspirin for three to five years were 60% less likely to suffer from a recurrence of the disease. The aspirin swallowers also were 71% less likely to die as a result of breast cancer. In addition, aspirin may slow the spread of lung cancer by 20% to 30%. And, taking low-dose aspirin each day for more than 10 years could drop stomach cancer deaths by 31%.

The Anti-inflammatory Mechanism

Aspirin reduces the risk of cancer by fighting inflammation. Inflammation is an important part of your immune system’s healthy response to sickness, injury or disease. But chronic or prolonged inflammation can create an environment in which cancer thrives. Aspirin blocks the production of the enzymes that increase inflammation in your body and speed or assist the growth of cancer cells. Ultimately, this helps lower your cancer risks or slow the spread of the disease.

The Cardiovascular Benefits of Aspirin

Aspirin has been shown to have benefit for cardiovascular health as well.  The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force now recommends aspirin therapy for men between the ages of 45 and 79 when the potential benefit for lowering heart attacks outweighs the risks. The task force recommends aspirin therapy for women between the ages of 55 to 79 when the potential benefit for lowering strokes outweighs the risks. These risks include major bleeds such as stomach bleeds, which are uncommon but can be fatal. One key finding in the new analysis is that the risk for major bleeds decreased over time in patients on daily aspirin.

New Studies Could Definitively Prove Aspirin’s Anti-cancer Benefits

The research findings on aspirin, however, are not clear cut. Not every study of aspirin and cancer has shown that it reduces the risk of developing or dying from cancer. And most of the research linking aspirin or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and a lower risk of developing or dying from cancer have had limitations; most have been either observational studies, which cannot establish causal effect, or analyses of clinical trials testing aspirin’s effect on other health measures, most often vascular outcomes.

But more definitive evidence may be on the horizon. In particular, researchers in search of answers are looking to several large clinical trials that have been launched to test whether aspirin reduces the risk of cancer incidence, death due to cancer, or both.

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