Researchers have been aware for a number of years that regular aspirin use seems to decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease, but what is new is that aspirin may also decrease the risk of some cancers.
The first evidence about aspirin decreasing cancer risk came from studies regarding gastrointestinal cancers such as those of the colon and rectum, and more recently esophageal cancer. The newer research studies indicate that in men who already have prostate cancer, taking aspirin daily could decrease the risk of a recurrence or spread of the tumors.
Doctors from the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia found that in their 2,051 prostate cancer patients, the ones who were taking daily aspirin were only one-half as likely to develop a recurrence of their cancer in the first 18 months following their initial treatment. They defined “recurrence” of cancer as a significant rise in the man’s PSA (prostate specific antigen) level, which, in a man who has had prostate cancer, typically means the cancer has returned.
The second study comes from the University of Chicago (USA), where researchers observed 5,955 prostate cancer patients up to 10 years following initial treatment (radiation therapy or surgery). The men who were taking daily aspirin after treatment had a death rate (from the cancer) of only 3%. The men who were not taking aspirin had an 8% chance of death from the prostate cancer in the 10 years following treatment.
So it seems pretty clear that aspirin decreases the risk of heart attack, and probably acts as an anti-cancer agent for at least several types of cancers…so should everyone just take an aspirin a day as a type of “insurance”? No. While most people think of aspirin as a harmless substance, it really is also a drug, with it’s own set of side effects and risks especially with long-term use.
The main concerns with aspirin are that it increases the risk of stomach ulcers and internal bleeding, most significantly in the gastrointestinal tract (usually stomach) or in the brain (“hemorrhagic stroke”). People who take aspirin every day have about a two-times increased risk of these complications in the first three years of daily aspirin.
Further, if you want to take aspirin daily, what is the best dose? A “baby” dose of aspirin or a full adult sized pill once a day? No one knows for sure yet the answer to that question.
So until further research is done, what is a person to do about aspirin, if anything? The best thing is to have a doctor who knows your overall health, your family history, and your risk factors for heart disease and cancer, who can give you advice. The answer needs to be tailored for each person. For example, if you have had prostate cancer, you and your doctor might decide it’s worthwhile to take daily aspirin to help prevent recurrence, even with the increased risk of bleeding.
We hope you have a doctor like this you can discuss this and other issues with. If you don’t, it’s worth finding one!
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