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Can You Prevent Colorectal Cancer With Aspirin?

A meta-analysis including recent studies finds that regular aspirin use can help prevent colorectal cancer. Talk with your doctor about benefits vs. risks.
Can You Prevent Colorectal Cancer With Aspirin?
Winneconne, WI –  5 May 2019 : A package of Geunuine asperin Bayer the wonder drug on an isolated background

For years, doctors have been debating the pros and cons of aspirin. They have long known that this old drug can cause serious gastrointestinal irritation. But epidemiologists have also noted that regular aspirin users appear to suffer fewer digestive tract cancers. Will taking aspirin help prevent colorectal cancer?

Aspirin Use May Help Prevent Colorectal Cancer:

A new meta-analysis confirms that regular aspirin use lowers the risk of colorectal cancer (Annals of Oncology, April 1, 2020). The investigators reviewed 45 observational studies published between January 2011 and March 2018. In addition, they considered 150 additional articles published in a prior meta-analysis. Sixty-six of these provided information on colorectal cancer risk and aspirin use.

When the scientists pooled the data from these 66 studies, they found that regular aspirin use seems to prevent colorectal cancer. The rate of this common malignancy dropped by nearly 30 percent among aspirin users. In analyzing the eleven studies that provided data on aspirin dose, the researchers found that higher doses appeared more effective than lower doses. That is, people taking 75 mg of aspirin daily lowered their chance of cancer by about 10 percent, whereas those taking 500 mg a day reduced their risk by about 50 percent. 

Does Aspirin Use Lower the Risk of Other Cancers?

People who take aspirin daily develop head and neck cancers as often as people who don’t take it. However, aspirin may help protect users against esophageal cancer and possibly even pancreatic cancer. The researchers point out that longer use (at least five years) appears to offer more protection.

Should You Take Aspirin to Prevent Colorectal Cancer:

Aspirin can provoke serious intestinal irritation, including bleeding ulcers (World Journal of Gastroenterology, March 21, 2013). On the other hand, aspirin can help prevent recurrent heart attacks (Advances in Therapy, Aug. 2019). If one of your parents was diagnosed with colon or rectal cancer, you should talk with your doctor. You’ll need to examine your risk to decide whether to take aspirin to prevent colorectal cancer.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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  • Bosetti C et al, "Aspirin and the risk of colorectal and other digestive tract cancers: An updated meta-analysis through 2019." Annals of Oncology, April 1, 2020. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.annonc.2020.02.012
  • Iwamoto J et al, "Clinical features of gastroduodenal injury associated with long-term low-dose aspirin therapy." World Journal of Gastroenterology, March 21, 2013. DOI: 10.3748/wjg.v19.i11.1673
  • Yuan J et al, "Aspirin versus clopidogrel monotherapy for the treatment of patients with stable coronary artery disease: A systematic review and meta-analysis." Advances in Therapy, Aug. 2019. DOI: 10.1007/s12325-019-01004-6
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