Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide, and a study published on 1 May 2017 in the journal Breast Cancer Research suggests a simple way to decrease the risk. Women who took a low dose of aspirin at least three times a week were 20% less likely to develop breast cancer.
This new study is important since it included a large number of women over a long period of time. Called the California Teacher’s Study, the research began in 1995 with over 133,000 active and retired women teachers and school administrators.
Beginning in 2005, more than 57,000 of these women started to regularly answer questions regarding cancer, as well as their use of aspirin and other medications, and about lifestyle factors such as diet, weight, smoking and alcohol.
By the year 2013, about 1,500 of these women had developed breast cancer, and the analysis showed the significant decreased risk in those women taking regular aspirin. The type of cancer that showed the most significant reduction was the most common type—the “hormone receptor positive, HER2 negative” subtype.
Low dose of aspirin effective
The dose of aspirin found to be effective was a low dose, a 81 mg. tablet. This is a much lower than the dose used for control of pain or fever, which is 325 mg. Some women were taking “non-steroidal anti-inflammatory” medications, such as Ibuprofen (that are related to aspirin), but these medications did not lower the breast cancer risk.
Why aspirin lowers the risk
First, aspirin has strong anti-inflammatory properties, and inflammation is believed to play a strong role in the development of cancer. Second, aspirin may be acting as a mild “aromatase inhibitor”, meaning that it reduces the amount of estrogen in the blood, and estrogen has been shown to be a fuel for many of these cancers.
Aspirin, other cancers and heart protection
Many adults are already taking daily low-dose aspirin to help prevent heart attacks. Aspirin appears to help here because it thins the blood, making blood clots in the heart (a heart attack), less likely. Many studies have shown a 15 to 20% lower risk of colorectal cancer in people taking low dose daily aspirin. Other research suggests that lung, pancreas, prostate, ovarian, and melanoma cancers are also less likely, but here, more research is needed.
Risks of daily aspirin
The main risk of taking aspirin daily is an increased risk of gastrointestinal bleeding and possibly of a bleeding stroke. However, with the low-dose method, for most people, the risk is felt to be small, and the benefit of decreased risk of cancer and heart attack is thought to be greater than the risk of bleeding. However, particularly if you have any bleeding disorder or are taking any medications that affect coagulation, you need to check with your doctor before taking aspirin.
All women, especially those with a higher risk of breast cancer (for example, with a strong family history) should consider taking a low dose of aspirin daily. Aspirin, combined with regular exercise, a healthy diet, and avoiding cigarettes and excess alcohol, will significantly lower a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer, and probably of several other cancer types as well.
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