A strong weapon against cancer may be as close as your medicine cabinet.
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,” Bresalier explains. 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.
So, what’s so special about aspirin when it comes to cancer? Bresalier explains the health benefits of aspirin and whether taking a daily dose is right for you.
Aspirin fights chronic inflammation
“Aspirin reduces the risk of cancer by fighting inflammation,” Bresalier says.
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,” Bresalier explains. Put simply, if cancer is a fire that’s spreading through your cells, chronic inflammation is helping fuel it.
Then, aspirin steps in. “Aspirin blocks the production of the enzymes that increase inflammation in your body and speed or assist the growth of cancer cells,” Bresalier says. Ultimately, this helps lower your cancer risks or slow the spread of the disease.
Aspirin comes with risks
That’s not to say everyone should start swallowing a daily aspirin. The drug comes with some very real drawbacks — most notably an increased risk for internal bleeding, Bresalier says.
That’s especially true among older adults who drink alcohol, have a history of ulcers, or who take anticoagulant drugs. The risk of bleeding may be too great to recommend an aspirin regimen, research suggests.
While bleeding risks are lower among people taking low-dose aspirin compared to those on full-strength versions of the drug, aspirin swallowers are still twice as likely to suffer from life-threatening bleeding compared to those not on aspirin. Low doses of aspirin or “baby aspirin” are generally 81 milligrams in the United States (100 milligrams in Europe), while a regular-strength adult aspirin is typically 325 milligrams.
Speak with your doctor
A daily low-dose aspirin may make sense for people at high risk for certain types of cancer, but the drug’s potential side effects mean aspirin certainly isn’t for everyone. “Only your doctor can help you weigh the benefits against the risks,” Bresalier says.
Request an appointment at MD Anderson's Lyda Hill Cancer Prevention Center online or call 877-632-6789.