Can an aspirin a day keep cancer away?

Low-dose aspirin guards against heart disease, but it also may reduce your cancer risk—especially colon cancer.

For a small, inexpensive, readily available pill that originally came from tree bark and traces its roots to ancient Greece, aspirin remains a modern-day marvel.

You may be one of millions of people who take a low-dose aspirin daily to help guard against heart disease, and now there’s even better news: This humble nonprescription drug can also help prevent cancer.

A recent study of data collected over 30-plus years from 47,881 men and 88,084 women found that those who regularly took aspirin had a lower incidence of cancer. Overall, the chance of developing cancer was 3 percent less for those who regularly took aspirin, which the research called “moderate but significant.”

The study, published online by the Journal of the American Medical Association, found the anti-cancer benefit was linked to at least six years of regular aspirin use. This represents a positive shift from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force’s 2015 statement, which said people who took aspirin for at least 10 years to prevent heart disease may also have a reduced risk of colon cancer.

“It is felt that the body’s inflammatory pathways play a pivotal role in a multitude of chronic ailments, including some cancers,” said Joseph Flynn, D.O., executive director and physician-in-chief of Norton Cancer Institute. “Aspirin reduces inflammation by blocking specific enzymes in the body, which may in turn influence cancer risk.”

This study shows that regular use of low-dose aspirin appears to hold particular promise in helping prevent colon cancer. The data indicated study subjects had a 19 percent reduced risk of colon cancer and a 15 percent reduced risk of general gastrointestinal tract cancers.

While aspirin’s potential to help decrease colon cancer risk is good news, the even better news is that colon cancer is highly preventable. In spite of this, colon cancer is the second deadliest form of cancer. The Colon Cancer Prevention Project estimates that six out of 10 colon cancer deaths in the U.S. could be prevented if everyone were screened at age 50.

Regular use of low-dose aspirin can complement — but not take the place of — colon cancer screenings.

Most colorectal cancers develop slowly over several years. Before cancer develops, noncancerous growths called polyps often appear on the inner lining of the colon or rectum. Polyps can be identified and removed during a screening colonoscopy, effectively preventing colorectal cancer.

“Colonoscopy remains the gold standard for colon cancer screening. It’s the single most effective way to detect and remove polyps before they become cancerous,” said Martin D. Mark, M.D., Norton Gastroenterology Consultants of Louisville.

According to Dr. Mark, taking an aspirin daily, reducing how much red meat you eat and eating more vegetables and fruits are all good practices, but nothing takes the place of a colonoscopy when it comes to preventing colon cancer.

For those who need a colon cancer screening, Norton Healthcare’s on-demand colonoscopy service offers convenience (no doctor’s appointment needed) and savings (no office visit co-pay). On-demand colonoscopy lets you register by phone and get your test preparation materials by mail. You return all required materials and schedule your procedure, then meet the gastroenterologist at the hospital for the colonoscopy. For more information on this service, call (502) 896-4711.


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