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Is Aspirin a Cancer Preventative?

03/19/2010
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A new study released by Harvard Medical School and published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology finds that “aspirin can significantly reduce the risk of cancer spread and death for women who have been treated for early stage breast cancer.”

These studies show that after successful treatments for breast cancer, women who take aspirin regularly have a drastically lower risk of dying from recurrent cancer. Aspirin may also cut their risk of having their cancer spread to other sites. The study was conducted on more than 4,000 nurses beginning in 1976, and concluded that those nurses who took aspirin, usually to prevent heart disease, had a 50 percent lower risk of dying from breast cancer and a 50 percent lower risk of the cancer spreading.

So what does this study mean for people treated for cancer? Some studies suggest that aspirin can cut the risk of breast cancer in women who do not have the disease. Other studies reach the opposite conclusion. Most doctors however will agree that taking aspirin every day for a long time carries risks, especially the risk of stomach or intestinal bleeding.

According to Louise Chang, MD for WebMD:

“Aspirin will only help prevent breast cancer recurrence, when combined with other cancer therapies. Most women do not get breast cancer and only those with a high risk of getting breast cancer would benefit from aspirin. Otherwise, the risks of aspirin outweigh the benefits it may have in preventing cancer.”

Like breast cancer, studies have also been conducted on treating those with colon cancer or those who are at a high risk of getting colon cancer with aspirin. The research strongly suggests that aspirin improves survival in patients treated for colon cancer. The same studies also state that aspirin decreases the risk of new polyps in patients who have had precancerous intestinal polyps removed and that people who took aspirin regularly had a lower colon cancer risk. Studies have also shown that aspirin may lower the risk of other cancers, such as prostate and esophageal cancers.

Even with all the promising and encouraging results from these recent studies, the U.S Preventive Services is continuing to recommend against the widespread use of aspirin to prevent certain cancers, citing that the risks outweigh the benefits for people at normal risk of colon , breast and other types of cancers. “There is no good evidence that this benefit (aspirin), even when combined with the benefit of low-dose aspirin in preventing heart disease, outweighs the risk for people at normal risk of cancer,” states Dr. Chang.

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