Researchers looked at the link between aspirin and cancer in more than 130,000 men and women over a 30-year span. They found that those who took a low-dose aspirin regularly over several years were about 3% less likely to develop cancer than those who didn’t.
When it came to colon cancer, researchers found a 19% lower risk.
This isn’t the first study to show that aspirin could curb cancer risk. But it may be the first to suggest aspirin’s benefit for those who get regular colon cancer screenings.
The study found that aspirin could have prevented nearly 9% of colon cancers in patients who were already getting routine colon screening. According to the findings, taking aspirin can complement the preventive benefit of colon cancer screenings.
We spoke with Ernest Hawk, M.D., Vice President of Cancer Prevention and Population Sciences, to learn more about aspirin and colon cancer risk. Here’s what he had to say.
How does aspirin lower colon cancer risk?
Aspirin reduces inflammation, which can affect cancer risk. It inhibits the development of prostaglandins, hormone-like compounds that cause cancer and help it spread.
Who should take aspirin regularly?
Those at significant risk for heart disease, heart attack or stroke should take daily low-dose aspirin.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends daily low-dose aspirin for these conditions, and acknowledges the lower cancer risk benefits. If you’re interested in taking a daily low-dose aspirin, be sure to talk to your doctor before you start.
What’s considered a low dose of aspirin?
The study showed the benefit came from taking low doses of aspirin. Low doses of aspirin, or “baby aspirin,” are generally 81 milligrams in the United States (100 milligrams in Europe). A regular-strength adult aspirin is typically 325 milligrams.
What are the risks of taking a daily aspirin?
Risks include gastrointestinal bleeding and hemorrhagic stroke. Drinking alcohol can increase these risks. The risks of these side effects vary depending on a person’s health history.
What does this study mean for people with increased colon cancer risk? Should they start taking a daily aspirin?
No, we’re not recommending that patients with an increased colorectal cancer risk start taking a daily aspirin at this point. If you’re at increased risk, talk to your doctor to find healthy ways to lower your cancer risk.
Adults age 50 and older, and anyone at increased risk for colon cancer, should undergo regular screening. That’s the best way to mitigate cancer risk.
Research in this area is ongoing to see if aspirin may be used for cancer prevention in the future.
Can aspirin help lower risk for other types of cancer?
Probably. Early studies suggest that a daily low-dose aspirin may help lower risk for breast, prostate, esophageal, stomach and bladder.