An Aspirin a Day…

Could something as simple as taking one low-dose aspirin a day help keep colon cancer at bay? Research indicates that, particularly for those at high risk of colorectal cancer, the regimen might be worth considering in addition to proper screening and a healthy diet.

To shed some light on the subject, I’ll provide brief details from a few recent studies:

–          A nationwide study conducted by researchers in Taiwan indicates that a daily, low-dose aspirin regimen among adults, many at high risk for cardiovascular disease, reduced their risk for colorectal cancer by 50 percent. For the study, researchers compared the incidence of colorectal cancer among aspirin users and non-users, matching them by age, gender and presence of known risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Over an eight-year period, a whopping 129 non-users versus only 14 users developed colorectal cancer.

“Our findings suggest that regular use of low-dose aspirin for at least 3.5 years was associated with a 50 percent reduced risk of colorectal cancer in patients at high cardiovascular disease risk after adjustments for potential confounding factors like age, gender and underlying comorbidities,” the researchers concluded. “Further large-scale randomized clinical trials are necessary to confirm these findings.”

–          The Women’s Health Study, a clinical trial that evaluated the benefits and risks of low-dose aspirin and vitamin E among nearly 40,000 women, indicates that long-term, low-dose aspirin use reduces by 20 percent the risk of developing colorectal cancer. Study findings (reported in the July 16, 2013 Annals of Medicine) are significant because the study was a randomized trial, the gold standard of medical research.

The initial study took place from 1993 through 2004 and included female participants, half of whom took 100 milligrams of aspirin every other day and half who took a placebo every other day. No one involved knew whether the participant was taking aspirin or placebo. Initial results showed that aspirin reduced the risk of stroke and heart attack among women 65 and older, while vitamin E had no effect on heart attack, stroke or cancer. After the study ended in 2004, researchers continued to follow more than 33,000 women through March 2012. These women were asked to continue the aspirin-taking regimen. It was among this group that the researchers saw a 20 percent lower rate of colorectal cancer. While aspirin did reduce the incidence of colorectal cancer, it didn’t reduce the number of precancerous polyps, suggesting that aspirin doesn’t prevent polyps but does help stop them from turning into cancer.

–          A study led by Yudi Pawitan of the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden analyzed data from Swedish cancer and prescription drug registries that included 80,000 patients with colorectal, lung, prostate or breast cancer. Of those 80,000, one in four people with colorectal, lung or prostate cancer and one in seven with breast cancer had regularly taken low-dose aspirin before being diagnosed. When comparing colon, lung and breast cancer patients who had taken aspirin with those who had not, the aspirin-takers were 20 to 40 percent less likely to have metastatic disease, meaning the cancer spread to other areas of the body. Looking specifically at colon cancer, only 19 percent of regular aspirin users had metastatic disease compared to close to 25 percent of non-users. Results also indicated that tumors were smaller in colon cancer patients, although aspirin did not seem to affect whether or not cancer spread to nearby lymph nodes.

Before you reach for the aspirin bottle, be sure to discuss it with your GIA physician to see what’s best for you, and remember no pill is a substitute for the recommended screening or healthy lifestyle. Prolonged aspirin use may cause gastrointestinal bleeding or other issues, and research remains to be done to better understand the benefits and risks of following a regular aspirin-taking regimen.

Proper screening and lifestyle changes remain the best preventive treatment for colorectal cancer. To reduce your risk of colorectal cancer, follow the lifestyle habits below, and remember that the single most effective means of preventing colon cancer is a colonoscopy.

  • Eat a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all.
  • Don’t smoke. If you do smoke, stop.
  •  Exercise. Try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise on most days.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.